All of this makes Monsters University a well-done children's film, by today's standards. If you go to see it, you and whoever you take with you will probably enjoy it as well.
But that alone does not mean this is the wisest sort of tale to be telling children.
Anthony Esolen, an English professor at Providence College, wrote a sharp, tongue-in-cheek book called Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. The fifth way he names is to replace the fairy tale with political clichés and fads. Fairy and folk tales, he says—while often violent and dark and awfully traditional—play an essential part in forming our psyches, our souls. A key benefit of the folk tale is that it teaches that "good is good and evil is evil, and the former will triumph and the latter will fail."
Adults, in their misery, know better. But, Esolen argues, it is of paramount importance that children not know better. While they're still being formed as human beings, they need to believe that there are dragons, that evil exists, and that those dragons can be killed. Not that seeing the world in stark black and white alone is a healthy thing either, but as Esolen says, "the subtler colors of the sky will come later."
The Monsters films, while funny and cute, aren't fairy tales. There is no hero, and no villain, in Monsters University. In fact, the villains of fairy tales become the heroes of this film. Thus it teaches kids not that the night is dark and full of terrors, but that it is dark and full of adorable fuzzy things.
By making monsters adorable, Monsters University destroys the meaning of the word monster. And the wisdom of tradition and faith, which remind us that bad things are very real, tells us that children must know the meaning of that word.
For the adults who wrote the film and the parents who will go to see it—grown-ups who have enough perspective to recognize the value of internal struggles and tragic flaws—the "monsters" theme is a clever device. But the question remains: is it the best thing for the moral formation of a child?
When you go see Monsters University, you might want to leave the kids at home.
The Family Corner
Monsters University is rated G, with no objectionable language or potty humor. There are a few hints at college party life, in the form of a few fleeting glimpses of red Solo cups and people playing ping pong instead of beer pong. There are also a few spooky moments, but nothing that had children in the audience in tears.