At 'Monsters University,' grade on the curve

PIXAR'S evolution to cautious corporate production line continues with "Monsters University," a mildly funny prequel to the 1999 hit.

The movie takes Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman), the lovable lunchpail monsters from "Monsters Inc.," and imagines them as students at a school where monsters learn the craft of going bump in the night.

In "Monsters University," the two start as rivals - the nerdy, undersized and over-prepared Mike feuds with legacy jock Sullivan, cruising on reputation and natural ability.

The two run afoul of the university dean (Helen Mirren) and end up facing expulsion, unless they can triumph at the so-called Scare Games, a competition among the university's fraternities.

Mike and Sully end up in a group of misfit outcasts, and many have noted the plot's similarity to "Revenge of the Nerds." The movie also bears an uncanny and unfortunate resemblance to the "The Internship" and its buddy-movie/Google Games storyline.

Pixar, at it's peak, was known for its freshness - for movies that were as imaginative as they were technically innovative, and for family movies with striking emotional content.

Most of those trademark attributes are missing or dampened in "Monsters University," which has that "Cars 2" feel: something from the retread factory.

The whole idea of under-the-bed monsters as the process of a secret industrial world seemed cheeky nine years ago - now, the jokes about the competitive, gear-grinding reality behind the magic seems more like grim self-reflection.

But that's mostly a concern to cranky movie critics, holding the Pixar animators to glory-days standards. I doubt most kids will notice. The movie is a colorful, gag-strewn, technically perfect piece of 3D animation, briskly paced, though it runs a bit long, coupled with its prologue cartoon.



Monsters University

Directed by Dan Scanlon. With Julia Sweeney, John Goodman, Joel Murray, Dave Foley, Steve Buscemi, Billy Crystal, Peter Sohn. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 47 minutes.

Parent's guide: G ().