"Monsters, Inc." came out the same year -- 2001 -- as "Shrek" and while both were nominated for the first Academy Award for best animated feature, the ogre took the Oscar.
The story of the odd-couple monsters with the voices of Billy Crystal and John Goodman was sweeter and more child-friendly than the smart, sassy "Shrek," though, and "Monsters University" strikes those same notes.
The prequel is not as delightful or novel as the original but it's populated with many more monsters, thanks to advances in animation, and adds Helen Mirren to the cast. She speaks for Dean Hardscrabble, an Amazonian giant centipede with 30 legs and, for good measure, dragon wings that pop out like Batman's cape.
3 stars = Good
Voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi.
It introduces us to the green, one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Mr. Crystal) as a little monster at Frighton Elementary School and, later, arriving at Monsters University, the school he hopes will open doors to opening doors at Monsters, Inc.
As we learned a dozen years ago, that is the power company, which sends scary employees through closet doors around the world to trigger screams. They serve as an energy source for Monstropolis.
Mike is a Scaring major, just like his lizard-like roomie (Steve Buscemi) and another freshman who is everything the diminutive dynamo is not. Sulley (Mr. Goodman) is a big blue furry lug who is the son of a famous scarer and so naturally gifted that he never cracks a book.
When Mike and Sulley get into a tussle that gets them kicked out of the Scare program they end up joining a fraternity to compete in the campus Scare Games. It's go big or go home for the pair, who join the misfits of the Oozma Kappa or OK frat.
"Monsters University" explores what can happen when unlikely friendships are forged, hard-working underdogs unite, how someone can fall short in talent but excel in other ways, and why a scary exterior might be hiding a terrified interior.
Dreams don't always come true in the way we imagine, the story demonstrates, and there's even a minor surprise near the end.
But it's mainly an excuse to revisit two memorable characters and to take mainstays such as Frisbee on the quad, frat parties and lectures in stately old halls and transfer them to this Crayola-colored universe. To drive home the college vibe, composer Randy Newman tapped the Blue Devils drum corps that delivers the sound associated with Saturday afternoon football games.
Celebrity voices abound, including Julia Sweeney as five-eyed mom Sherri Squibbles, Alfred Molina as a Scaring 101 professor and Nathan Fillion as the swaggering president of the Roar Omega Roar frat, to name just a few.
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, from ones with horns sprouting from their heads or doubling as their noses, tentacles for arms and legs or slug shapes that slither slowly across the ground.
Its G rating is family friendly, its 103-minute running time (movie is preceded by the short "The Blue Umbrella" and has a bonus scene at the end of the credits) a little less so.
It's not at the top of the Disney-Pixar class, but it's certainly pleasant and so brightly tinted and imagined that you can save the 3-D surcharge for another summer movie.