Is Pixar going stale? That's the question the public can't help asking, considering its recent habit of falling back on revisiting movies like in Cars 2 sequel, the upcoming Finding Dory sequel, this Monsters Inc prequel, and not withstanding the disappointment of Brave.
For Pixar, "story is king" and even when we see them using standard genres as a framework -- Cars (Big City Kid learns values in the Country), Cars 2 (standard spy movie), Toy Story 3 (heist), The Incredibles (superhero), Bug's Life (seven samurai scenario) -- they always manage to infuse these oft-done genres with relationships and themes that go beyond the generic kid's film. The Incredibles was about a man facing a mid-life crisis. Toy Story 3 is about the inevitability of change and growing and having to let people go. Up has similar themes of letting go, but also focuses on the relationship of Russell and his missing father figure. Brave was brave in that it was one of the first animated features we've seen that really explores the psyche of a mother-daughter relationship.
That being said, Monsters University is a solid movie even if it doesn't soar to previous Pixar heights. It's hard to match up to the wonder and clever handling of the original Monsters Inc. Luckily, this movie doesn't try too hard to milk the same angles. Monsters Inc. was really about showing us the ingenious world and traversing through a fast-paced story. Monsters University is more of a character study within your typical college coming of age story.
The pillar of this movie, as in most Pixars, is the character development. As rich as these characters were before, we get to know even more nuances of them, especially Mike Wazowski. I came to love him and Sully even more than I had before. But there's a whole cast of colorful characters outside of these two. Rather than relying on a gung-ho disney outlook, this movie also takes a look at dreamers and our dreams and how we may have mislaid them prior to this movie. As Mike and Sully's relationship develops, it also causes some reflection on the lifelong friendships or enmities that have developed in our own lives...and why some of them are one rather than the other.