It is rare for a prequel to approach its subject without blatant reference to its predecessor. With Monsters University, I never got a sense that it was a forced story trying to expand or offer insights to moments that happened in Monsters Inc. Of course there were obvious things that had to be addressed in order to avoid plot holes. This movie did a good job of creating a story that could stand alone. You can watch them in whichever order you wish.
There were a decent amount of laugh-out-loud moments, but there was no strumming of the heart strings. For the majority of the film, you get the sense that something is missing. Then you realize that the sense of adventure is missing, and there isn't something as substantial on the line as a toddler going missing. Since we know these characters end up where they want to be, you never get a sense that much is at stake. Clocking at just less than 2 hours, it doesn't feel as long as it is, but also doesn't feel like much happens.
The other thing missing is the social commentary that the first movie was soaked in. I always felt like Pixar made Monsters Inc so they could brainwash future generations into trying to find better sources of energy. Monsters Inc is one of the most political movies ever created, and the message resonates so loud because it disguises itself as a story for children. Although maybe not as significant on a world wide scale, this one will hit close to home with a lot of the recent buzz about bullying. It is gentle with the message, but again the message is loud and clear.
Visually, it is some of the most beautiful works Pixar has done. It is subtle, but pay attention to the scenery; the details in here are so concentrated. There is one scene in front of a house during dusk that captures the feel of those setting sun moments so vividly.
The characters are muted versions of what they become but are still recognizable. John Goodman plays it cool and you forget how old he is. Billy Crystal also comes across very youthful and his delivery itself makes you want to giggle. However, it is the new characters that generate the bulk of the laughter, particularly the character voiced by Charlie Day.
Pixar can do no wrong when you really break it down. There sequels will never measure up to their original bodies of work. I don't foresee a lot of complaints over this one. In the grand scheme of things my issues with this movie is that it isn't enough like the first one, but I anticipate with repeat viewings I will see it for what it is.