Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Release Date: November 2nd, 2001 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich Actors: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, John Ratzenberger, Frank Oz, Bonnie Hunt
here is nothing more toxic or vile than a human child,” proclaims Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn), a prominent businessman of Monstropolis, a city populated entirely by monsters (on an alternate plane of existence). The town is powered by children’s screams, collected by Monsters Incorporated employees, who travel through door portals to the rooms of human kids. The most experienced “scare collector” is James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman), of the bluish, horned, hulking, hairy variety, who is the roommate and best friend of assistant Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a green, one-eyed, ball-like monster with spindly legs. Sulley keeps up a rivalry with Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), of the camouflaging lizard/centipede variety, for the most number of scares (desperately needed to defuse a scream shortage energy crisis), while Mike spends his free time dating medusa-like Celia (Jennifer Tilly).
At the end of a routine workday, Mike forgets some paperwork, but rushes off for dinner with Celia at Harryhausen’s restaurant. Sulley goes back to the “scare floor,” where he discovers Randall doing some cheating, sneaky overtime, and accidentally allows a cute little human girl toddler, Boo (Mary Gibbs), into Monstropolis. The CDA (Child Detection Agency) scours the city, but Boo falls into the hands of Sulley and Mike. The simplest solution is to find the exact door from whence she came, but they soon realize that the conniving Randall is masterminding a plot to take over the city by reinventing scream extraction, and that retrieving Boo is at the heart of his scheming.
Jazzy music by Randy Newman opens “Monsters, Inc.,” the fourth computer-animated film by Pixar Animation Studios. Directed by Pete Docter, it also features other regular power players backing the production, including co-director Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story 2”), producer John Lasseter (the director of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life”), and writer Andrew Stanton (“WALL·E”). Because of this creative force, incredibly imaginative, humorous ideas are realized in an entirely unique premise. And the computer animation is superb, with textures, lighting, movement, and character designs that remain amusing even as technology improves. During the climax in the door storage room – an impossibly vast, expansive collection of portals transported via a rollercoaster system of metal beams – audiences are given a particularly impressive visual marriage of environment construction and action choreography.
But the role reversals are the most intriguing part of “Monsters, Inc.,” putting viewers on the side of the boogeyman that hides in the closet. Although the monsters are the protagonists, they’re just as scared of children as the children are of them. Mike and Sulley have to figure out how to communicate with the “alien” infant, learn that humans aren’t as dangerous as they seem, explain their job as if it’s only natural for monsters to scare people, and, in the end, manage to love a member of the opposing species. Though the potent themes of friendship and teamwork are always at the forefront, “Monsters, Inc.” sees a substitution with Pixar’s usual, highly emotional material for adventure and humor (most noticeably by exploiting Billy Crystal’s comedian background in the scripting), which makes the film fun and entertaining, but not nearly as powerful as their greatest works. It is, however, an accomplished stepping-stone to a repertoire of computer-animated features that rivals the quality of live-action filmmaking from the same year, as well as continuing to set the standards for which all other animation projects attempt to reach.
– Mike Massie