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A Review of Monsters University
CNS photo

MPAA Rating, G

USCCB Rating, NA

Reel Rating,  (4 out of 5)

“Whatever your dream is now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed. If you do get your dream, you haven’t won. You cannot win your life.”

– Stephen Colbert, Northwestern Commencement Address, Class of 2011

It took an animated film about monsters that depend on humans for electricity to accurately describe the college experience; it is not a world of non-stop parties, binge drinking, and hidden consequences, but a place to discover your true identity. College provides maturity-challenged young people their first baby steps into adulthood with the aid of a football field-sized safety net.

Pixar’s latest cinematic venture is funny, warm, and a great way to introduce young children to the importance of both passionate dreams and bitter disappointments. God always has our back, even if our back is to the wall.

Everyone has a childhood moment that in hindsight demonstrates a hidden desire. For the tiny, one-eyed Mike Wazowski, it was a field-trip to Monsters, Inc., where he witnessed firsthand the important duty of scaring children to power Monstropolis. Seven years later, he begins the Scaring program at Monsters University where he meets Jimmy Sullivan, a naturally scary—and hairy—lug from generations of terrifying pedigree. Despite his enthusiasm, it’s not all fun and fangs. Mike is quickly told he is not scaring material and so enrolls his fraternity Oozma Kappa in the Scare Games in order to stay in the program and impress the truly frightening Dean Hardscrabble. It will not be easy. In addition to Sullivan, his fraternity is a ship of fools easily recognizable to any recent college graduate: the unhip older guy, the weird art student, the momma’s boy, and the kid with a split personality, here manifested physically.

This is familiar territory for any movie about college, but Monsters accepts the genre and goes further than expected. The story could have stopped with the Scare Games, either ending happily with a victory and dreams fulfilled or sadly and wise lessons learned to do better later. Neither happens. The tournament shows Mike that maybe he was never supposed to be a Scarer. Maybe his dream was wrong. It’s a sobering thought that every freshman denies and every graduate knows is true. College is not just about striving to succeed but learning to fail and go down a new path.

Discernment is full of suffering; Jesus promised us crosses. Most college students will change their major and have difficulty finding employment once they are finished. This existential crisis is a necessary part of spiritual maturity; it is a frightening monster of our better nature than all humans must face. It allows people to see the closed doors so they will look for the open windows. Mike has to adjust his dreams. When he finally has the humility to use his skills to help someone else, he discovers his true calling. This happy revelation would have never occurred without the loss of his childhood ambition and the suffering associated. In times like these, it’s important to remember that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This terrible situation will eventually lead Mike to a lifelong friendship, wonderful career, adoring fiancé, and a discovery that will save his city.

It’s a relief to see Pixar back on top. For 15 years, it made animated masterpiece after animated masterpiece, rarely failing impress. Cars 2 and Brave were good, but not Pixar good. Monsters University is a reminder that Pixar is still the best animation studio in the world. This movie will certainly entertain children. It has weird-looking characters, hilarious gags, and a beautiful heart. However, it will resonate most with the Millennials. They entered college in an era of boundless opportunity and left in a barren wasteland. This story will give them hope. God is always with every person and will use his dreams to make this world a better place, though usually in a way better than he could have possibly imagined.

 
About the Author
Nick Olszyk
Nick Olszyk is Chair of the Department of Religion at Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim, CA. He has directed several short films and is the new father of the aptly named Nick Jr. He was raised on bad science movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.
 
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