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Is 'Monsters U' Better for Tweens?

Even for a little green guy with one eye, Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) has chutzpah. After all, despite his diminutive size and toothy smile (retainer included), this Monsters University student is determined to be more than just a scary wannabe. In fact, he enrolls in MU to become just that—a professional scarer.

But it's when the innately terrifying James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) graces Mike's scare class with his legacy presence—supposedly showing how natural talent can trump hard work—that the fur-covered gloves come off and the real monster mash begins.

Monsters University, Disney*Pixar's latest animated installment, directed by Dan Scanlon, is a prequel to Pixar's hyper-successful Monsters, Inc. (2001), which follows factory colleagues and now-friends Mike and Sulley as they scare kids, whose screams power their city. And while the earlier version flipped the scary-monster tropes on their multiple heads, showing how monsters could be afraid of kids, Monsters University is an underdog story that pits our two heroes against each other, ultimately showing that persistence, dedication and teamwork can ultimately pay off—even after monstrous humiliation.

What's heartwarming for both parents and kids in this skillfully animated film is Mike's persevering attitude despite near-constant adversity.

After a disastrous fight between Mike and Sulley gets the pair kicked out of MU's Scare Program by the terrifying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), Mike bets he can win the school's Scare Games to get his place back in the program. The dean takes the bet begrudgingly, and all Mike needs now is a team. Enter Oozma Kappa, MU's frat version of the bad-news bears, which includes a middle-aged continuing ed student, two-headed bickering brothers, and a toothless blob nicknamed "Squishy." Mike reluctantly recruits Sulley and leads the rag-tag bunch on a quest to win.

What's heartwarming for both parents and kids in this skillfully animated film is Mike's persevering attitude despite near-constant adversity. He's the monster who doesn't take insults lightly, standing up for himself at every turn—whether it's to his condescending rival Sulley or the super-confident Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion), who heads up the top scaring frat on campus, Roar Omega Roar.

What might give parents pause, however, is the decidedly tween feel of Monsters University. Not only are our heroes on a college campus, complete with rowdy frats and DJ-powered parties, the Oozma Kappa monsters are also subject to a level of humiliation not usually seen by the swing set. And, as Sulley is learning that natural talent often needs to be nurtured and directed, he spends a lot of the movie sulking, making this parent wonder if his nickname should instead be changed to "Sullen."

The scares also seem to be amplified, particularly toward the end, and the first film's zaniness is generally traded for more soul-searching and self-revelations that, for a sensitive monster, could be scary in its own way.

What We Love: Gotta love those underdogs, especially the ones who stick up for themselves despite ridicule.

Hold on a Minute: One sequence near the end of the movie might scare little ones.

Opens: June 21

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 95 min.

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