Last week, a French math teacher was suspended for showing his class of 11-year-olds the first Saw—were they learning about the mean?—and while that’s far from the typical curriculum, it’s close to a perfect gag for Pixar’s mock-ghoulish latest. You needn’t have seen 2001’s Monsters, Inc. to understand or enjoy this prequel; it’s enough to know that a decade before audiences first met one-eyed blob Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and turquoise gorilla “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman), they were dewy hopefuls striding the corridors of higher learning. At “MU,” apparently the Yale of scare schools, they first tussle as competing Big Monsters on Campus, then are forced into an unlikely partnership when Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, uncorking the Queen) targets them for expulsion.
Monsters University aces a two-part test—first, appealing to kids with gorgeous, hyperrealistic animation that teases out every pink hair on a beastly art student; then luring in parents with several knowing jokes about strumming your guitar on the quad or playing beer pong. Behind the gentleness lies a significant message of sticking up for honesty (cheating is a plot point), along with the value of studying hard. If the film lacks the heartbreaking quality of Pixar’s revolutionary best, there’s no demerit in playing it solid and safe for a change. Adult fans of horror will love the idea of a fearsome school of hard knocks, Hogwartsian for sure, but with its own under-the-bed growl.
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