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Monsters University

There’s not much to dispute anymore: Disney has pretty much killed Pixar. The animation company that gave new life to what had been a children’s genre with films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Up has been on a downward spiral ever since the Mouse bought it out. It took a little while for the projects that had been initiated and produced fully by Pixar to make it through the pipeline, but the first one officially branded “Disney•Pixar” was Cars, easily the worst of the Pixar films I’ve seen. (I hear Cars 2 was even worse.)

Monsters University, a sequel to the 2001 Monsters Inc., may not be quite that bad, but in many ways its even more dispiriting to see the Pixar logo on it. In the worst tradition of Disney “family” movies, it is lowest-common-denominator programming, built on a vision of the world that Ozzie and Harriet might have grown up on. The premise, which is so thin that description threatens to tear it apart, is to show the college education of the characters featured in Monsters, Inc., Sully (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal), as they learn how to scare children, thus producing the energy that powers their world.

To give it the benefit of the doubt, there’s a glimmer of a subversive idea here in that a college education is presented as being unnecessary to obtaining your dreams. But that’s only slipped in at the last minute. Up to then it’s a lot of sitcom humor about a kind of college existence that hasn’t existed in decades (if ever at all), where frats and sports are the only things of value (an ongoing joke replacing the word “score” with “scare” beats this to death). I laughed exactly once, at a throwaway joke in which Mike, gesturing to indicate a quantity of five, has to hold up two hands. (Like most animated characters, he only has four fingers on each.) But the film doesn’t exist to entertain adults like me, as did previous Pixar films: It’s just onscreen to keep young children quiet for 90 minutes, at which task, to judge from the screening I attended, it was barely adequate.

The film is preceded by a bunch of commercials for Disney Channel shows and a short film, “The Blue Umbrella,” that turns a lot of objects on a city street into smiley faces. It made my teeth hurt.

Watch the trailer for Monsters University

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