Monsters, Inc.
review by Carrie Gorringe, 2 November 2001

"There's nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child.  One touch would kill you, " explains Monsters Inc. CEO Henry J. Waternoose (Coburn) to his employees, as he admonishes them to take more care when at work.  Unfortunately, the employees are a high risk for having that experience, since their job descriptions require them to play upon the traditional childhood fears of monsters lurking in the closet.  Monsters, Inc. is the only power supplier to the city of Monsteropolis, and the source of that power lies in the screams of human children.  Operating from a "scare floor" arrayed with rows of interchangeable closet doors that are really time portals, the monsters hurtle themselves through sometimes incredible distances and regions to reach their nightly "targets".  Once they arrive,  they must eke out the loudest scream possible:  the louder the scream, the more power it generates.  Without those screams, they, and their city, would die.  Unfortunately, a wrench has fallen right into the clockwork, threatening the monsters' supply of safe, clean power:  just as Monsteropolis is experiencing an energy shortage, most contemporary children have become so jaded that the concept of monsters leaping through closet doors with snarls and growls poised on the tip of their lips inspires no more than a yawn. Now the monsters are under pressure to – pardon the expression – obtain more charges from their charges.

With loud screams at such a premium, it's not surprising to discover that Monsters, Inc. offers considerable incentives to inspire them.  James P. Sullivan (Goodman), "Sulley" to his friends, is an eight-foot high monster, swathed in what looks like a turquoise-fuschia pile of Orlon straight out of the reject pile, has a congenial attitude, and an indefatigable ability to generate horrific ear-splitting screams, thereby making him the most valuable of Waternoose's employees. Sulley is on track to win the award for producing the greatest number of screams, but he isn't going to win easily. Randall Boggs, a chameleon who is ferocious in both demeanor and jealousy, is obsessed with toppling Sulley's reign regardless of the time, effort and lack of morality required to accomplish the task (Although Randall leaves much of the dirty work to his sniveling assistant, Fungus – voiced by Muppeteer-turned-director Frank Oz -- he is more than willing to deliver the coups d'ιtat personally).

One night, Sulley discovers the extent of Randall's attempts to overthrow him.  While cleaning up some paperwork for his one-eyed friend and scare assistant, Mike Wazowski (Crystal), Sulley discovers that Randall's portal is still sitting in its docking bay, instead of being in storage.  Curiosity brings him in contact with the object of Randall's constant torments, a three-year-old girl (Gibbs) who, upon meeting Sulley, resists all attempts to stay in her bedroom.  Finally running out of options, Sulley reluctantly takes her back to his apartment, knowing that she will suffer severe punishment if she's caught (Waternoose's attitude toward children is merely a restating of official policy in Monsteropolis). He involves Mike in his scheme to get the child, who is given the name "Boo", back through the portal before the Child Detection Agency (Monsteropolis' anti-child SWAT team) detects her presence -- or her absence.  Sulley and Mike's attempts lead to a great deal personal stress – Mike interrupts his date with the love of his life, a sultry Cyclops named Celia (Tully) -- slapstick chaos, pathos and peril, especially when it becomes obvious that Randall is not the only one at Monsters, Inc. with desperate ambitions. 

Visually, the film is peerless. Monsters, Inc. establishes new benchmarks in computer animation. Both in part or as a whole, the Pixar team has created a new and cleaner visual style, one that eliminates many of the problems inherent to designing and generating computer-animated images.  These achievements are especially evident when considering the major difficulty that animators have faced, whether working with pen and ink or with pixels:  the ability to generate realistic-looking human characters.  (In both Toy Story and Toy Story 2, all of the human figures looked more toy-like than the toys themselves, with a bloated, "bubble"-like appearance).    With the character Boo, lead animator Dave DeVan has edged even closer to the realization of that goal.  DeVan, a Pixar veteran who also worked on the designs for Woody and Buzz Lightyear, has depicted a child who is a persuasive facsimile of her human counterpart.  She cries, she laughs – but, more importantly, and most of the time, she looks like she is actually a part of the scenes in which she appears: in other words, her body doesn't stick out awkwardly from the background.  As usual, Pixar has maintained its already high standards in creating the overall visual concept of the rest of the cast: the use, placement and movements of fur, eyeballs and claws have been managed with what seems to be almost instinctive perfection.  Monsters, Inc. with a wonderful and bizarre blend of the monstrous and the entertaining. 

After viewing Monsters, Inc., it's evident that The Pixar teams have also made amazing leaps in constructing action sequences.  This methodical reconsideration of how to make things – and monsters – move in a grand scale has resulted in animation that makes the eyes pop, as in the scene in which Sully has to ride a sled down a mountain.  The overall effect is pictured from Sulley's point of view, and every aspect of it – from the mad descent to the rendering of the snowflakes – is so perfect that your eyes are transfixed in awe at the artistry – not to mention the computing power -- required to create them.  The real proof of genius, however, lies in the film's finale.  It is set in the "door vault" where all of the closet doors of Monsters, Inc are stored, before being whisked along over miles of overhead conveyor belts to their intended place.  The setup is an obvious borrowing from the "baggage-room" sequence in Toy Story 2, but one that has been expanded in complexity well beyond anyone's expectations.  Sulley and Mike must pursue Randall over, under and through the doors in a massive warehouse.  Since the warehouse holds 5.7 million doors, the journey takes on some extremely vertiginous aspects for the audience, whose point of view becomes more of a roller-coaster ride than watching a film.

The script for Monsters, Inc. is pure Pixar: lots of wit and hilarious chaos.  But  screenwriters Stanton and Gershon have taken advantage of Billy Crystal's presence to fill the script with lots of opportunities for screwball humor.  The dialogue and situations  bubble over with persuasive wit and pathos without falling into either smugness or sentimentality, but the manic humor, best embodied by the sly and snappy one-liners which have been given, wisely to Crystal, and the constant mad dashes down the hall of Monsters, Inc., tend to keep the pace buoyant.  When Mike and Sulley, for example. smuggle a disguised Boo back into Monsters, Inc. in an attempt to send her back to her room.  Accidentally encountering Waternoose in the company lobby, Mike quickly, with false casualness and nervous mugging, flippantly explains that her appearance is part of the annual "'Take an Obscure Relative to Work' day." Also present is the trademark Pixar approach to "in"-jokes:  subtle, almost throwaway, gestures scattered sparsely throughout the film  (For example, the name of the sushi restaurant where Mike and Celia go to pitch woo is named "Harryhausen's", a tribute to special-effects master Ray Harryhausen, best known for his work on 1963's Jason and the Argonauts).  The screenwriting duo also provide a steady flow of well-proportioned sentiment into the film, as the relationship between Boo, Mike and Sulley develops, emotional gooiness is not allowed much of an opportunity to seep into the proceedings. Even the potentially sensitive issue of causing children endless nightmares about monsters in the closet has been treated with care;  the writers always keep the fear factor to a minimum and enclose it within lots of humorous situations (The other monsters' foul-ups are a great source of humor.).  Besides, there's no opportunity for fear when you're laughing too hard and running to keep up. 

Is Monsters, Inc. flawless?  Well,  without giving too much away, some might think that the film's storyline relies too heavily upon certain traditional, hence well-worn scenarios.  From a retrospective glance, however, the use of familiarity really ensures a secure base upon which to balance, and expand upon, an almost inexhaustible amount of inspiration and talent.  The end result is indisputable proof of the filmmakers' ability to pick and choose impeccably.

Monsters, Inc. is a perfect addition to Pixar's film library – or anyone's, for that matter.  The film sets new and higher standards for the visual "look" of future computer animation.  Coupled with a great script and Pixar's innate ability to match a character with just the right actor (Goodman and Crystal's duo establishes an unbreakable and persuasive rapport from the very beginning), Monsters, Inc. is a delight.  These monsters in this closet are no illusion, but they might appear to be considerably less scary.

Monsters, Inc. is preceded by a Pixar-produced short, For the Birds, a simple tale about a flock of little birds who dislike each other a lot, but discover that they dislike a goofy-looking bird far more.  They gather together and attempt to rid themselves of this interloper, with embarrassing consequences.  For the Birds is a side-splitting illustration of how combustible the mix of hostility and hubris can become.

Directed by:
Pete Docter
Lee Unkrich
David Silverman

Billy Crystal
John Goodman
Steve Buscemi
James Coburn
Mary Gibbs
Bonnie Hunt
Jennifer Tilly
 John Ratzenberger
Frank Oz

Written by:
Andrew Stanton
Daniel Gerson

G - General Audiences
All Ages Admitted..





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