Movie Review By Dan Heller
"Monsters, Inc.", the latest computer-animated gem from Pixar, finally explains two of the great mysteries of mankind: why only children see monsters come out from the closest at night, and why those monsters like to scare them. Both questions have the same answer: for energy. Each night, after children are put to bed, but before they fall asleep, monsters emerge from their closets through magic doors that connect the human world to the Monsters Inc. factory in Monstropolis. The monsters jobs are to scare the children, and capture their frightful screams into canisters, harnessing the energy to power their city. The better the monster, the louder and more frightening screams, the more energy is collected.
Seems like an easy job, but there's a hitch. Just as children are frightened of monsters, the monsters are also frightened of children. Specifically, they can't be touched by a human or anything from the human world, or, so it is believed, unthinkable catastrophes will happen.
If that weren't enough, there's yet another problem. Due to the children's exposure to violence in video games and real life, they aren't so easily scared anymore, causing an energy crisis at Monstropolis. To encourage higher scare production, the owner of Monsters Inc., Henry J. Waternoose (Played by James Coburn), introduces an incentive plan for the scarers to produce more screams.
The movie follows the delightful characters of the top-scarers, James Sully (played by John Goodman), and his sidekick, Mike Wazowski (played by Billy Crystal) as they try to outdo their chief competitor, Randall Boggs (played by Steve Buscemi) by seeing who can collect the most screams. While Sully and Mike are good-natured, well-intentioned workers, "just doing their jobs", the plot thickens when they stumble upon some things they weren't supposed to know.
One day, while working overtime to boost their scream-count, Sully returns from a child's room with its inhabitant clutched to his tail: a three-year-old girl. Normally, on the occasion where a human item - such as a sock - might stick to a monster as he returns from the human world, a factory-wide shutdown takes place, and little monster-men in their sterilized rubber suits, dressed like members of a bio-hazard SWAT team, de-contaminate the area. This usually involves exploding the contaminated item. (This also explains why we often have a missing sock that we can never find.)
Before today, an actual human has never been in the monster world before, and a good portion of the movie is dedicated to Mike and Sully trying to hide the girl and plot how they are going to return her without getting caught. When our heroes realize that there is no harmful or toxic contamination as they'd been lead to believe, they begin to have their suspicions that something is afoot at Monsters, Inc. As they also unravel other mysteries, they discover the true nature of energy production and manufacture for Monstropolis, and the evil plans of the corrupted powers within the company.
Is the movie about oil vs. solar power? Is it about using children for harmful profit, like tobacco companies? Is it trying to make statements using symbolism to show the true nature of the Gun lobby? No, the movie isn't swelling with politically-correctness, and while drawing such analogies may be fun fodder for us adults, it's not clear there is any such "intent" on the filmmakers' part. Sure, the characters are riddled with symbolism that can be compared to many Freudian or Jungian psychological profiles, but the story itself is just a fun abstraction of the classic David and Goliath theme, where the little guy discovers the true nature of the big beast, and defeats him. One can easily draw comparisons of this movie with any current controversy, so take your pick, but that's more of a by-product of a tried-and-true storyline, with fleshed-out characters, and witty and clever dialog. Nothing more.
Everything in this movie works from the minor childlike details, such as the overall pastel color-scheme and the toys that children play with, to the more sophisticated and mature jokes that only adults will get. Pixar was even very cognizant of their animation capabilities, such as the finely details "hairs" on Sully's body, as it floats with wind and seems to move perfectly naturally; as well as their limitations, such as the computer's inability to accurately render human skin and miniscule muscle movements that we humans can easily detect with our own eyes. Pixar wisely chose not to try to conquer that problem in Monsters, Inc. Even though there is only one human character, she is a tiny three-year-old, and her cartoon-like appearance actually works better than if she were more realistic. In all, the film actually looks more like a cartoon than photographic reality. To me, that enhances the fun of it immensely.
At the screening I saw, there were children as young as 3 and 4 who enjoyed it a great deal, simply for the visual effects and funny voices, even though they were not fully engaged and were often wandering the isles, glancing back now and then when a voice got their attention. Any age above that, including the more elderly in the audience, people seemed to be having as much fun as I was.
Lastly, while I don't consider it a criticism, it just seems so unnecessary to hire top-notch stars to be in animated movies. Their voices aren't really distinguishable enough to notice it's a name-brand movie star, so why bother? Just for marketing appeal? If you are going bother, at least make it part of the fun, like the way the Genie in Disney's Aladdin was clearly written for and based upon Robin William's personality. At the very least, give the character even the slightest reason to play whichever role is assigned. Otherwise, it just draws attention to the real reason they're there: to help give the marquis's movie credits more star power.
No matter. I still think Monsters, Inc. was in top form with the rest of Pixar's animated line-up, and I highly recommend it.
© 2001 - Dan Heller - Air Date: 11/02/01
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