Pixar's fourth ambitious foray into computer generated animation, "Monsters, Inc." is, from a creative standpoint, on par with 1999's "Toy Story 2
." While lacking that wonderful picture's topical themes, and suffering in comparison to the incendiary riches of "Shrek
," "Monsters, Inc." remains a wildly imaginative, quality family film that both children and adults will be able to enjoy equally.
Everyone remembers a time when they were children when they feared that a monster was hiding under their bed or in their closet, just waiting for the right time to pounce on them when nobody else was around to protect them. "Monsters, Inc." suggests that these hideous creatures are, indeed, real, not to mention generally kind characters who simply scare kids for a living.
Monstropolis is the clever name of the alternate world where these monsters live, going about their lives like humans do on Earth, and even crossing the street only when the "Stalk" sign has flashed on. The blue-and-purple-furred Sulley Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and one-eyed Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) are best friends who both happen to be employees for Monsters, Inc., a company where the workers' job is to scare kids into screaming and, thus, giving the world its energy. While staying after work late one night, Sulley is horrified when he inadvertently lets the adorable, jibberish-talking Boo (voiced by Mary Gibbs) into their own world. While the city of Monstropolis goes on red alert (escapees from Earth are looked upon as toxic hazards), the soft-hearted Sulley attempts to find the door where she has come from, even as he starts growing attached to the harmless, loving Boo.
Directed by Peter Docter and David Silverman, "Monsters, Inc." is, first and foremost, a joy for the eyes. Meticulously animated to make every strand of hair and piece of fiber look nearly three-dimensional, the movie is brightly colored and always beautiful to look at. An exciting climactic chase sequence through a swinging conveyor belt of closet doors is a particular visual triumph that resembles a rollercoaster crossed with a ride at Disney World. Meanwhile, a large number of shots are so superbly animated that they look almost like live-action, while the human characters are, as in "Shrek," kept somewhat caricaturized.
"Monsters, Inc." is a light-hearted comedy, sometimes very funny. I especially liked Sulley's reasoning to his boss for why he has brought Boo, dressed in a monster costume, to work: "It's my cousin's sister's child. Didn't you know it's Bring-Your-Obscure-Relative-to-Work Day?" While there are many jokes that children will be able to understand, much of the humor is aimed at the more mature audience members, such as the yellow-flavored sno-cones the abominable snowman offers Sulley and Mike, to the name of Monstropolis' most famous restaurant being "Harry Hausen's."
At the film's core, however, is the heartwarming tale of a monster (Sulley) who grows to care about a human child in a way he never expected to, knowing full well that it isn't possible to remain friends. Like the "Toy Story" series, there is a touching, serious undercurrent running throughout the story, making the picture much more than just a so-called "kid's movie."
The voice work by all of the actors is inspired, to say the least. John Goodman is the perfect choice to play Sulley, the giant, sweet-natured protagonist. There is a warmth to his voice that not everyone has, and it is this characteristic that is vital to making Sulley a lovable hero. Billy Crystal acts mostly as the comic relief, as Mike, while Mary Gibbs is cute and engaging as little Boo, and Jennifer Tilly brings a touch of offbeat classiness to her role of Celia, Mike's snake-haired love interest.
So why doesn't "Monsters, Inc." match the lofty heights of "Toy Story 2
" and "Shrek
?" Well, there are a few admitted slow patches in the first half, and the ending is a misguided disappointment, dodging the truthful conclusion it should have had for a less thought-out, happier one. These flaws do not take away all that is right, though. If one is looking for a genuinely entertaining, harmless movie for the whole family, "Monsters, Inc." is a top-notch success.
©2001 by Dustin Putman