A major theme of Monsters University is that Mike just isn't scary. His teachers tell him this. Other students tell him this.

Even the children at the end of M.U. aren't scared by his direct appearance. The kid at the end of Monsters Inc. is also more bemused than frightened when he sees Mike.

What I don't understand is, why isn't Mike considered scary?

Scary Mike

Granted, he isn't the most frightening monster around, but I still think children would be afraid of him. He's a green, scaly one-eyed creature with fangs and claws. While audiences might find him "cute", to the humans in the movies, he's a strange entity who sneaks into childrens' rooms at night.

It's especially egregious, given that all the other Oozma Kappa members evidently are scary, including this bozo:

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What makes Mike so unscary in this world?

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    Are you looking for an in-universe explanation or an out-of-universe one. The latter is easier; he's fundamentally non-threatening, short and cute-looking with rounded teeth and small, nail-like claws. It would be possible to turn him into something unpalatable if they dramatically altered his character (if he was, for example seen to commit murder without remorse), but that ain't gonna happen. – Valorum Apr 20 '16 at 22:40
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    @Richard He may be "cute" from our point of view, but I don't see how in-universe children wouldn't be afraid of a strange creature coming out of their closet in the middle of the night. – Rogue Jedi Apr 20 '16 at 23:04
  • Blame it on Billy Crystal. Now if Jack Palance was behind Mike, now that would be scary. – iMerchant Apr 21 '16 at 1:06
  • @RogueJedi "I don't see how in-universe children wouldn't be afraid of a strange creature..." - you said it yourself. In-universe would be the operative term here. – Misha R Apr 21 '16 at 6:43
  • @misha ...Yes? I'm asking why the children in the movie aren't afraid of him. – Rogue Jedi Apr 21 '16 at 10:22

Ignoring the fact that Mike palpably isn't scary (he's short and goofy looking, his teeth aren't especially sharp, his "claws" are kinda short, his giant eyeball makes him look vulnerable, his arms and legs seem puny and bandy) the reality is that in a world of scary monsters he's definitely the least scary.

Added to that, the children that Mike tries to scare at the end of MU are likely to be those who've already been scared half to death on a regular basis by the most scary monsters in the Monster world. By comparison, he's not even in the same league.

As the young lady he attempts to scare puts it...

You look funny

There's also a note in the script (registration required) about what she's saying in the background.

KIDS (waking up walla): What’s going on?/It’s the middle of the night./He’s a little funny green guy....

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    There's literally a guy who looks like the love child of a koosh ball and a barbell in the second movie. There's fluffballs that grow little legs. There's a guy whose* only possible method of scaring* was to simply stand somewhere and stare into space. – user311362 Apr 21 '16 at 17:05
  • @Axelrod - Note his poor scores on the scare-meter. – Valorum Apr 21 '16 at 17:06
  • There's definitely something going on. Maybe it's just a universe where a giant eye watching you in the darkness isn't scary, even relative to a doughy pink guy looking zoned out? – user311362 Apr 21 '16 at 17:08
  • @Axelrod - His appearance is certainly startling, but that's not the same as scary. – Valorum Apr 21 '16 at 17:10

Armchair psychology time!

Kids like childlike faces, and the signifiers include big eyes and rounded faces:

Borgi et al. stated that young children demonstrate a preference for faces with a more "infantile facial" arrangement i.e. a rounder face, a higher forehead, bigger eyes, a smaller nose and a smaller mouth. In a study that used three- to six-year-old children, Borgi et al. asserted that the children showed a viewing time preference toward the eyes of "high infantile" faces of dogs, cats and humans as opposed to "low infantile" faces of those three species.

Mike also has no nose, and no hair might work as a stand-in for a higher forehead. Also as mentioned in the comments and other answer, although he has a large mouth, the teeth are blunted and not scary.

So the cuteness factor for audiences would simply be more pronounced in children.

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