I was beginning to worry that my favorite animation company, Pixar, was dipping too often into familiar (read: easy) territory. After the inspired 2010 release of "Up," the three films that followed were mostly sequels.
Besides last year's "Brave," the other two releases were additions to the "Toy Story" and "Cars" franchises. And no matter how much I like Buzz and Woody, I left the theater craving the originality of discovering something like the Incredibles or Nemo for the first time.
It's a difficult challenge to make a sequel to a popular kids film. There has to be a balance between keeping things familiar for children and maintaining the interest of parents.
"Monsters University" imagines what the gigantic fuzzy-haired Sulley (John Goodman) and the shrimpy one-eyed Mike (Billy Crystal) were like as college freshmen. Mike isn't exactly a natural at the scaring game. He dreams of being a professional scarer, similar to the way a child who plays baseball has his heart set on the majors, but there's something lacking.
Sully, on the other hand, comes from a famous monster family; scaring runs in his genes. But he's lazy and rebellious, and not nearly as talented as everyone gives him credit for. Horrified of failing the family name, he chooses to slack off rather than work hard.
They begin as quiet enemies, both enrolled in the Scare Program. In college, monsters must study the art of the scare unless they want to spend the rest of their lives on a conveyor belt packing scream jars.
The dean (Helen Mirren) kicks them out of the elite study program and they are forced to become friends after joining the same loser fraternity and try to get a second chance by joining the Greek Scare Games.
Anyone who has watched "Revenge of the Nerds" (definitely not the majority of this audience) knows what follows: an Olympic sporting event where the underdogs prove everyone wrong. And despite the lack of originality, both in the movies revisiting of known characters and a predictable storyline, Sulley and Mike are filled with enough laughs to land the film an "A."