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Originally published June 20, 2013 at 12:10 AM | Page modified June 20, 2013 at 6:12 AM

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Dream scream team returns for ‘Monsters University’

A review of “Monsters University,” a fun, fuzzy prequel to Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.”

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Monsters University,’ with the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Dave Foley, Sean P. Hayes, Joel Murray, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day. Directed by Dan Scanlon, from a screenplay by Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird and Scanlon. 103 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.

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Who doesn’t love Mike Wazowski? Certainly nobody who met him in “Monsters, Inc.” a dozen years ago: a bulbous, green one-eyed monster who looks like a Ping-Pong ball with a wide grin, skinny legs, a cheery voice and a can-do attitude. Now, Pixar Animation Studios takes us back to Mike’s youth, and that of his fuzzy sidekick Sulley, in “Monsters University,” to show us how these two became friends — and top scarers.

Voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, Mike and Sulley are irresistible — and so, mostly, is “Monsters University,” which has plenty of chases, loud noises and bright colors for the kids, and a pleasantly nostalgic depiction of college for grown-ups. (Love the old-school wood floors in Mike’s dorm.)

We learn that college-age Sulley was something of a slacker, that Mike has always been a type-A overachiever, that even monsters have orthodontists (Mike goes off to college with a retainer) and that Randall the lizard (Steve Buscemi) was once a bespectacled Randy who couldn’t quite control his invisibility. (What’s the point of being scary if no one can see you?) The guys join fraternities, compete in scaring contests and learn, in that sweet Pixar way, about friendship.

“Monsters University” is so likable that it feels somewhat monstrous to criticize — but nonetheless it isn’t quite as funny as its predecessor, and some of the sequences toward the end feel a little flat. (Things are picked up, mercifully, by a perfectly cast cameo by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger — think Cliff Clavin, if he were even scarier.)

No Pixar movie is bad, but the company seems to be on a roll of less-than-perfect efforts (“Cars 2,” “Brave”), and you watch “Monsters University” wishing it were just a little snappier, that the off-the-wall jokes were a bit more frequent and that it had the freshness of “Monsters, Inc.”

The Pixar bar, though, is awfully high, and not every film can be a “Finding Nemo” or a “Ratatouille.” The kids at the screening, including my 8-year-old assistant, seemed to have a blast (particularly enjoying the campus mascot Archie the Scare Pig), and the animation is, of course, state-of-the-art gorgeous. (Though it’s debatable whether the 3D is necessary; I suspect it might look just as good in 2D.)

And behind it all is an agreeable message about how it’s OK to be different, how life doesn’t always turn out as you plan and how, with friends by your side, things tend to work out for the best anyway. As does “Monsters University,” ultimately; you leave not quite overwhelmed but happy.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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