In a year dominated by high-octane sequels (Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast and Furious 6, Iron Man 3, The Hangover Part III) and a superhero reboot (Man of Steel), it is refreshing to see the highly anticipated Monsters University, in theaters. This Pixar-produced prequel to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. is a welcome dose of lighter, animated fare.

Monsters University explores Monsters, Inc.’s top scare team Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) in their college years. As a little monster, Mike is inspired by a field trip to Monsters, Inc. to become a scarer. The most prestigious university to pursue such a career is at Monsters University, the monster equivalent of an Ivy League school. At freshman orientation, the campus is replete with typical human college staples: overzealous orientation leaders, students playing hacky sack on the lawn, and rival fraternities, sororities and clubs vying for attention. It is there that Mike learns about the annual Scare Games, where monsters gather to compete for the university’s top scarer honor. This event will figure in largely during the second half of the movie.

In the dorms, Mike’s roommate is the bespectacled geek Randall (Steve Buscemi), who wants so desperately to fit in. He is not yet the antagonist we remember from Monsters, Inc. As they begin scaring studies, Mike meets Sulley, a privileged slacker due to his family’s scaring history. Mike resents Sulley’s laziness and immediate popularity among the cool kids, but strives to earn his place among the scarer greats. Mike isn’t particularly frightening-looking and he can’t roar, but he aces all of his written exams and studies the scaring craft relentlessly. After an argument with Sulley ends in the defilement of Dean Hardscrabble’s (Helen Mirren) scream canister, Mike is suspended from the scare program. In order to redeem himself and become top scarer, he resorts to the Scare Games. The only way he can compete is by assembling a rag-tag team of monsters, one of whom includes Sulley. From there, the two must work together to win the Games and the school’s approval.

Monsters University is the quintessential origin story of overcoming differences and discovering identities. Many of the college activities, including the parties and fraternity inductions, are unmistakably human, a plot detail that isn’t very monster-like. Monsters, Inc. introduced us to the idea that monster society functioned just the way humans’ did, but the idea felt a bit too contrived this time around. Though it’s primarily a kid’s film, should the monster world feel so familiar to us?

What the movie lacks in originality it makes up for in humor. Mike Wazowski couldn’t be played by anyone other than Crystal; his quick, punchy delivery is the most enjoyable to hear. The prequel is fun, cute, predictable, colorful, and features the added voice talents of Alfred Molina and Charlie Day, among others. Some of the Scare Games’s obstacle courses, as well as the dean’s appearance —she looks like a cross between a dragon and a centipede— may frighten very young viewers, but overall those scenes serve as entertaining thrills.

While Monsters University may very well become another classic, the charm and subtle sentimentality inherent of a Pixar production is absent. Perhaps it is because the film is a prequel and the characters’ outcomes are already preconceived, which makes for good fun, but in the end Monsters University does not match up to the poignancy of its predecessor.

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