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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

My dream ended in seventh grade.

The warning signs popped up repeatedly for three or four years before I finally got the message at 13 years old: I was never going to play third base for the Atlanta Braves.

Reality set in when I got only one hit in countless at-bats during my final year playing baseball.

Strikeout after strikeout told me it was time to swing at something else.

After some soul searching (read: growing up), I decided I loved to write. Whether I’m any good is really up to you or whoever decides to employ me down the road.

The harsh but necessary lesson I learned nearly nine years ago is the same heart-breaking lesson Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) learns in Disney-Pixar’s “Monsters University,” available on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday.

From a young age, our green, one-eyed hero has his heart set on becoming a scarer.

For those of you unfamiliar with this film’s predecessor — the hilarious and heartwarming “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) — scarers venture into the human world to scare children and harness their screams for energy to power the monster universe.

However, Mike just isn’t a very scary guy, and the admirable hours and energy he puts into studying and learning the ins and outs of scaring do not do him much good.

On the other end of the spectrum is James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman), a monstrous creature with no work ethic. The son of famous scarer Bill Sullivan, Sulley expects to coast through his days at Monsters University on his name alone.

Mike and Sulley quickly become rivals, and their animosity boils over into a standoff that gets them removed from the scaring major by Dean Hardscrabble — voiced by the ridiculously excellent Helen Mirren, who infuses the character with a chilling vibe.

Exiled from pursuing their dreams, Mike and Sulley set aside their differences to join Oozma Kappa — your token dork fraternity — in order to compete in the Scare Games.

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Should OK (The group’s “We’re OK!” chant made me laugh.) win the competition, Hardscrabble would allow the entire frat — including Mike and Sulley — to become scaring majors.

What follows is a laugh-out-loud, family-friendly take on “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) that includes some legitimately jarring plot developments.

Director Dan Scanlon did not give this film a “happily ever after” ending, and the choice is outstanding. Even though Mike does not get what he wants, he finds fulfillment.

It’s a tough message to tackle, especially in a film sure to be popular with children.

When I thought of my baseball dream growing up, I was convinced I was the exception to the “one in a million” rule.

So did Mike, and that’s OK.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope, but there is happiness to be found in pursuing our dreams and finding ourselves along the way — even if we don’t get there.

“Monsters University” is not as profound as “Up” or “Toy Story 3,” but the message hits home.

Other thoughts:

Art (Charlie Day) is the film’s funniest character. Outstanding lines, even better comedic timing.

Pixar has one of most interesting creative processes in filmmaking, and the bonus features do an excellent job of giving you an inside look. I recommend the film’s audio commentary and “Paths to Pixar: MU Edition.”

A version of this story ran on page 11 on 10/24/2013 under the headline "Baseball, dreams and the message behind ‘Monsters University’"

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