From ''Animal House'' to ''Revenge of the Nerds'' to ''Van Wilder,'' campus comedies have been a reliable R-rated genre.
Leave it to Pixar to turn it into G-rated family entertainment.
As artistic feats go, ''Monsters University'' doesn't rank with ''Finding Nemo,'' ''The Incredibles,'' ''Up'' and the ''Toy Story'' films, but it's an entertaining crowd pleaser, if anything more satisfying than the film that spawned it.
''MU'' is a prequel to ''Monsters Inc.,'' which was set in a world that gets its energy from the screams of children that are collected from Scarers sneaking into their rooms at night. In the monster world, the Scarers are the superstars, the ones that the monster kids worship. They even have their own trading cards.
The new movie takes place before best buds Mike and Sulley were Scarers, before they even knew or liked each other.
They come from very different backgrounds.
WHAT: ''Monsters University''
STARS: The voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Charlie Day, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Alfred Molina and Nathan Fillion.
STORYLINE: This ''Monsters Inc.'' prequel shows how Mike and Sulley became friends and prepared for a career as Scarers.
DIRECTOR: Dan Scanlon
Mike (Billy Crystal) is a pint-sized outcast who dreams of being scary. He becomes a student of the game, so to speak, determined to be the most learned Scarer even if he is not the most physically imposing.
Sulley (John Goodman) was born to be a Scarer. His dad is one, and he has the size, the look and the booming roar. He's the big man on campus, and not just because he's 8 feet tall. But it all comes easy to him, perhaps too easy.
Both Mike and Sulley are first-year students at Monsters U., and both run afoul of the intimidating dean (Helen Mirren) of the scare school and get kicked out of the program. The only way Mike can achieve his dream and Sulley can achieve his destiny is to team up with each other and with some other MU outcasts and win the Scare Games, which is kind of like a campus Olympics.
The movie succeeds on the strength of the relationship between Mike and Sulley and the way director Dan Scanlon (who also co-wrote the script with Robert L. Baird and Daniel Gerson) has fun tweaking the conventions of campus comedies.
When ''Monsters Inc.'' came out 12 years ago, Mike and Sulley felt too much like a poor man's Buzz and Woody from ''Toy Story.'' Here, the relationship feels more fleshed out, more resonant. There's a scene late in the movie that shows how Pixar does things with animation that no other studio comes close to achieving.
Mike and Sulley are sitting by a riverside confessing some of their deepest fears. Goodman and Crystal do skillful voice work, elevating through their performances what would otherwise be a conventional bonding moment. But what truly makes the scene special is how their emotions are accentuated by the artistry of the computer animators, the facial expressions as they speak as well as their expressions and body language as they're listening. The actors and the technology are in perfect sync.
The animation is so impressive in Pixar's work, it's hard not to just sit back and marvel at it on a technical level. But the technology always seems to be in service of the story.
The only thing that keeps ''MU'' from matching the studio's best work is the story this time is fun, but slight.
''Revenge of the Nerds'' is the most obvious blueprint. There's a ''cool'' fraternity with all the best scare students (and led by Nathan Fillion), while Mike and Sulley are forced to join Oozma Kappa (''We're OK!"), whose ''frat house'' is in the basement of one member's house (where his mother still lives). The OK team survives the early events almost in spite of itself, but ultimately bonds together and works as a cohesive unit.
The movie is filled with frat parties and campus sights that have been given a monstrous spin. It acknowledges the more adult college movies without including anything inappropriate for a young audience. And by showing the mechanics of how the monsters try to scare children, it diffuses the potential terror, making ''MU'' a movie about scaring children that shouldn't scare the young ones in the audience.
There also are plenty of references to the original film. Randall (Steve Buscemi), the villain in ''Monsters Inc.,'' started out as Mike's roommate at MU. A refresher on the first movie isn't a requirement to enjoying this one, but it might help in picking up some of the more subtle parallels.
And ''Monsters University'' is so much fun, audiences may enjoy hanging out with Mike and Sulley for another film.