'Monsters University' lacks Pixar magic

Pixar Animation Studios’ Monsters, Inc., originally released in November 2001, continued the stellar run of entertainment the company began in 1995 with the feature-length computer-animated landmark Toy Story.

Monsters, Inc., introduced the big, blue and furry James P. “Sully” Sullivan and his little friend, the green, one-eyed Mike Wazowski. These two creatures work for a scream-processing factory called Monsters, Inc. It’s their job to scare screams out of human children, screams that their company harvests for energy.

Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters, Inc., takes Sully and Mike back to their college days. In this busy, colorful film, they are students on a handsome, hilly campus populated by their fellow young monsters. But only an elite few can remain in the university’s prestigious School of Scaring.

This Monsters prequel has a new director and only one of the original film’s writers. Saying Monsters University isn’t nearly as fun and fresh as its predecessor is letting this low-achiever off lightly.

Director and co-writer Dan Scanlon and co-writers Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson register few of the qualities that made the far superior Monsters, Inc., so engaging. Technically accomplished though Monsters University is, it gets a “D” in entertainment value.

Sully and Mike meet as freshmen on the MU campus. John Goodman and Billy Crystal reprise their roles from the first film, but in the guise of students studying scream-producing techniques. Sully is a legacy student whose father is a legendary alumni of MU and scary monster.

Sully throws his promise away by assuming he needn’t work at the art and science of scaring. He quickly falls from grace in the eyes of the stern, disdainful Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). Meanwhile, the diminutive Mike instantly has strikes against him. From the first day of school, the dean believes he’s out of his league.

Monsters University aspires to make Mike a character worth cheering for. He dreamed of going to MU since he was a little monster. A childhood and youth of being a rejected outcast enhances Mike’s loser status. But once he gets to MU, he studies hard. He knows his stuff. Sully, having squandered his initially lofty status on campus, must struggle to regain it.

The movie becomes a predictable underdog tale. Sully, Mike and their misfit fraternity brothers must run an uphill race to even remain in the School of Scaring department. Their peers inflict familiar schoolyard humiliation upon them.

As frantic and monster-crowded as Monsters University is, its overall effect is one of killing time. The characters and the storytelling do not delight. As shocking as it may seem, the movie lacks that old Pixar magic. And, horrors, it’s even boring.