When Disney and Pixar decided to haul Monsters Inc. out of the closet for a re-make, sequel was the obvious choice. But this is Pixar. They broke ground with the story of the monsters who leap from kids' closets and power their city off childrens' screams. Obvious wasn't happening. So Monsters University was born.
The movie opening in theaters today is a prequel to the 2001 hit. It's the origins story of scarer James "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) and his little green sidekick, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal).
So now for the question parents are asking: is a movie about scary monsters too scary for kids?
If your child is especially sensitive, perhaps. But while Monsters University may follow Mike and Sulley back to the days when scaring was still their endgame, Crystal does his darndest to keep the funny coming and Goodman's Sulley is reminiscent of his turn as Dan Conner, a bit of a blowhard who's all fluff underneath.
Scary monsters, it turns out, don't always have to be scary.
Sometimes they're sweet. Sometimes a little silly (and in more than a few scenes a lot silly). It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day puts in a comedic performance rather more kid-appropriate than his usual fare as Art, the monster kids will love and parents will remember as a parody of that one kid who was always around college but never really seemed to go to class ... ever. And the Scare Games, a contest to show who's the scariest critter on campus is more hilarious hijinks than freakfest.
Are there scary moments? Sure. But as director Dan Scanlon explained in a chat with The Stir on the grounds at Pixar in San Francisco, which has been remade to look like a college campus to get employees in Monsters U spirit:
It’s always the monsters’ point of view. And even if we let Sulley or even the misfits get a little scary, it’s still your pal Sulley. You're still on their side.
According to Scanlon, making films at Pixar begins with what will appeal to adults because the films' makers are the only audience they have.
We rarely say 'oh this is for kids.' ... However, on a situation like being scary, it’s probably one of the few times we go, oh, we can back off that a little bit. I hope that even though this movie deals a lot with fear, you’re always with the monsters.
I'll admit my concerns went beyond those of the typical mom. This wasn't just about my kid. Monsters Inc. remains my favorite Disney movie (even after watching Monsters University). It made walking into the new film a nailbiter, lest the original be ruined by the experience.
But fans of Monsters Inc., many of them kids who are now in college themselves -- just like the monsters -- should be pleased. The heart of the story that tempers the "fear" remains. And while it's impossible to be as innovative as the original -- the concept has already been created -- Pixar has given an origins story for the characters that only serves to enhance the love of the first.
Will you be taking your kids to see Monsters University? Have they seen the first?
Image via Disney
Disclaimer: Disney covered my expenses to attend a pre-screening of Monsters University. All opinions expressed are my own.