Terrorizing children in their bedrooms remains the existential concern of the toothy blobs, hams, and pop-pom-furred Wild Things that populate the Monsters
movies, many of whom look like gummy nothings long stuck to the bottom of Pixar's junk drawer. Their very lives depend upon coaxing night-screams from human kids, a premise rich enough for Seuss or Borges. Is it too much to ask, then, that Monsters University
on occasion suggest the shivery fear and pleasure of imaginative childhood anxieties? Or that the hundreds of technicians and story-wranglers involved in this brilliantly engineered, occasionally hilarious riot of gags and chases and pull-hard-on-your-bootstraps moralizing might, just once, glance up against the artistry and honesty of Maurice Sendak's wild rumpus—or even The Incredibles
? Still, even when Pixar isn't aspiring to an idea, it has a way with genre. This time we see the college days of the monsters of Monsters Inc.
, which is diverting once the movie settles into a Revenge of the Nerds
-style frat showdown. There's a relentless, grating sunniness to the opening scenes, as Mike (the eye-stalk voiced by Billy Crystal) natters about how he's going to measure up to the school's legacy by becoming the best scary monster he can be, a passion that's not especially compelling. As with the Cars
pictures, Monsters University
feels not like the work of artists eager to express something but like that of friendly pros whose existence depends on getting a rise out the kids. It's like the scares Mike springs on those sleeping tykes: technically impressive but a job un-anchored to anything more meaningful-- at least until the last minutes, which are lovely.