Monsters University

It's been twelve years since Monsters, Inc. was released, and I must admit that I'd forgotten pretty much everything about it, other than it's about monsters and the two main characters are voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman. And frankly, this prequel about how this mismatched duo met in college seemed to be a part of Pixar's recent slump (including the much-maligned Cars 2, which I haven't seen, and the underwhelming Brave), so I almost didn't see it. But I decided to go anyway.

The good news: You don't have to know much about Monsters, Inc. to follow the story in this breezy comedy, in which Mike and Sully (Crystal and Goodman) first cross paths and wind up involved in a campus-wide competition to see which fraternity or sorority is the scariest. The even better news: while Monsters University isn't top-shelf Pixar, it's still better than Brave, and presumably Cars 2.

The biggest problem with Monsters University is that its storyline is all too familiar: pitting the lovable losers against the arrogant jocks in a heated battle has been a standard trope for decades. The script – written by Pixar second-stringer Scanlon and veteran animation scribes Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson – adds a couple of twists to offset the predictability, but we're a far cry from the expertly engineered breathlessness of Monsters, Inc.

All in all, I had a good time, though I had to wonder just who the intended audience for this is. The movie's predecessor felt kiddie-oriented; those same kiddies, even 12 years later, might not be familiar with the sort of college comedies that Monsters University riffs on. Yet for older audiences who would otherwise get the idea, the script lacks bite. (I laughed exactly once; the old Pixar wit has gone missing.) Nevertheless, it's well-done, but it's still "minor Pixar". I'm looking forward to their recently announced return to a focus on original material, because this string of not-especially-desired sequels and prequels is dragging the studio down.