Director: Pete Docter
Cast: The voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly, Mary Gibbs
Running Time: 1:26
Release Date: 11/2/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Pixar Animation Studios proved themselves pioneers of computer animation (and animation in general) and the art of film when they made Toy Story, the first full-length, fully computer-generated film. That film proved that Pixar was aware that showing off technical wizardry does not make the actual content of the movie any less important. Since then, they have proved themselves two more times with A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2, one of the few sequels that is superior to the original. Now once again they have triumphed with Monsters, Inc., a wonderfully imaginative and very funny film that shows not only another leap in technology for the studio but also an impressive maturation of their storytelling abilities. It has only been six years since the release of Toy Story, but in that time, we’ve seen gigantic leaps in computer animation. Monsters, Inc. may not be as realistic as Final Fantasy or as universally appealing as Shrek, but it manages through simple heart and sweetness to be just as much an accomplishment as either of those films.
The thought of monsters in the closet is one of those things that everyone has had at one time or another. Twisting our original thoughts about such creatures, the movie makes them just as (perhaps more) scared of children as children are of them. In fact, these monsters believe children are toxic and prolonged contact with them could lead to death. You would ask, of course, why take the risk? Well, the monster’s city is powered by the screams children, and statistics show that an energy crisis is imminent. So that means that all employees of Monsters, Inc. must work extra hard. Luckily for the city, James "Sulley" Sullivan (voice of John Goodman), a big, blue fuzzy monster, and his partner Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal), a short, green walking eyeball with arms and legs, are part of the team. Sulley is just scares away from breaking the all-time scare record, although he is closely trailed by the overly-competitive Randall (voice of Steve Buscemi), a giant chameleon-like monster. One night, Randall attempts to work in a few extra scares after-hours, and a little girl is suddenly running through Monsters, Inc.
One thing that all of Pixar’s previous outings have in common is the use of real settings. In the Toy Story films, there was a young boy’s room and other suburban and city locales, and in A Bug’s Life, nature itself was blown up to human proportions. Monsters, Inc. marks the first time that the studio has created a world of its own, and they have achieved brilliantly. The world itself is basically a cityscape with many little details added to make it a place for monsters. My personal favorites: a "grossery" store and a slimy janitor who is trapped in a Sisyphus-like eternity of having to repeatedly mop up after himself. This will be one of those films where people will pick up new details with each viewing. The plant itself is full of creative ideas, like the training room or the door rotation device. The latter is used in a chase that brings the structure of the baggage belt chase in Toy Story 2 to a whole new level, as the pursued enter different doorways to escape.
The characters are also incredibly realized, thanks to the superb animation. The detail on Sulley’s fur is impressive, and for the lack of major facial features, Mike is quite expressive. Other favorites of mine include a giant creature (perhaps the size of a skyscraper) who clucks like a chicken, and a poor monster who always finds the need to be disinfected (that process itself is incredibly amusing). The little girl is absolutely hilarious, and just about everything she does is worth a good, solid laugh. The voice work is also noteworthy. Crystal has the wise-cracking role, much like Eddie Murphy’s donkey in Shrek, though it’s easy to say that Crystal does not measure up to that great performance. Mike himself is not given as much screentime as is needed for a character such as his character to leave an impression. Buscemi adds a scuzzy feeling to Randall as only he can, and there are many other "name that actor" voices to go along with other characters. The movie, though, ends up being Goodman’s. A mostly overlooked character actor, he captures the spirit of his character and helps add a level of sympathy to the movie.
Animators have for some time looked for the so-called "Holy Grail" of animation, which means creating lifelike human beings. Computer animation seems to be the way to go for this attempt, but a more important goal is to bring human emotion to animation. That is a struggle rarely achieved, but in Monsters, Inc., something strange happens near the end. The film suddenly becomes remarkably sweet and affecting. There’s an interesting theme that becomes apparent through the course of the movie, and it’s that children are impressionable and keeping the scary parts of life away from them for as long as possible is important to their well-being. The ending is quite touching, and coming closer to emotional truth is always far more important than coming closer to technical truth.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.