Monsters Inc. (2001)
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Jeniffer Tilly, Steve Buscemi, James Corburn, Bob Peterson, Mary Gibbs
Directed by: Pete Docter
Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
Synopsis: In the world of Monstropolis, the screams of children give power to its citizens. Monsters Inc. is the primary provider, recruiting top scarers in order to keep the city running. James “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) is the top monster in the company. When he accidentally leaves a door to the human world open, a child who he named Boo, sends the city into hysterics due to the fear of human children being toxic.
Review: Let's face it, at one point in our childhoods we were afraid of the dark, of the monster in the closet, under the bed and in our dreams. Even if we eventually realized that it was all a product of our imaginations the thoughts stay with us as precious memories of our infancy. Such is the premise behind Monsters Inc., Pixar's fourth film and their second original story. Pete Docter and his team of story men expanded on the idea of the monster in the closet and created an amazing universe where the monsters are actually quite nice, and they are just doing their jobs. This is just the beginning of the a series of events that are some of the most complex ever put on film.
What do I mean? Well, the whole story is about facing your fears and realizing that not everything that looks scary means harm and that often the danger is in our minds. This is expressed through the fact that in Monstropolis the belief is that human children are toxic, and if one came into contact with a monster they treat it in the same manner as experts would deal with a bomb threat. This brings me to a more sadder note about the movie. Monsters Inc. was released in November of 2001, two months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. At the time I didn't realize this, but the film became very relevant to everybody. Fear and paranoia was taking over the world as rumors of wars and more attacks invaded our hearts. With the film being about conquering what scares you it brought audiences a lot of laughter and relief in a time of uncertainty, and this is why it's one of my favorite Pixar films.
In addition, the film deals with the subject of limited resources. Monstropolis runs on the screams of children, which is what Monsters Inc. provides. Problem is that children are becoming desensitized to the idea of monsters, creating less screams and providing less power to the city. Despite the silly concept of screams being a power source in an alternate reality if you think about it this is a very real issue, one that can easily be replaced with clean water, fuel, food and other elements we need in our daily lives. Combine this with the idea of a whole society being controlled by fear of what might kill and Monsters Inc. becomes more than just a standard family film. Best of all, though, none of it feels forced. The script is so well written that all of these concepts are developed in the story through the actions of the characters, rather than stopping the movie in order to deliver a message to the audience. It's a very smart and sophisticated way to make what would have been a silly movie into a film that has heart and soul.
That doesn't mean that the film takes itself seriously. Monsters Inc. is first and foremost a fantasy comedy, and a great one at that. The characters are instantly likable thanks to their voice actor. John Goodman as James “Sulley “ Sullivan is fantastic. He brings his trademark fatherly warmth to the character, giving us a character we can easily relate to and cheer for during the film's greatest scenes. Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski really hits the spot in the comedic department. He is comedic without never going overboard. He expresses fear and concern (almost to the point of paranoia) in a way that you understand him while still laughing at his misfortunes. He plays off of John Goodman's straight man charm very well, creating a nearly perfect comedic duo. Then you have Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs, which in my honest opinion is so good that he isn't really playing a character but being himself. Buscemi has the knack of creating likable characters out of sleaze balls and while his turn as this character may border on type casting, you can tell that he is having fun.
James Corburn as Waternoose nearly steals the show with his performance, mainly because of how the story develops him. He is a gentleman above all, very calm, collected and easy to trust, the kind of boss you would love to have. But, without spoiling anything, his character evolves in such a way that you never see it coming, and the voice acting changes alongside it. It stands as one of the best moments in all the Pixar films, and once you see it you'll understand why.
Finally, you have the smallest characters whose voice actors complete the whole package. Jennifer Tilly brings a lot of air-headed charm to Celia, Mike's love interest. She doesn't do much in the whole story but her appearance will always be fondly remembered. Story man Bob Peterson is a hilarious Roz, an old, bitter woman that delivers her lines as dry as possible, much to the dismay of Mike and the delight of the audience. Last but not least is Mary Gibbs as Boo. The directors were looking for authenticity rather than an inspired performance, and even though I think Boo is supposed to be much older than the voice acting suggest she is adorable and you feel as if Boo is a real child having an adventure with these cuddly creatures (as she sees it of course).
Since the film's release Pixar has gotten much better at creating digital worlds and characters, with the recent Toy Story 3 giving the classic characters an updated look and a toy world that is remarkable. Even then, Monsters Inc. remains a masterpiece of digital design. The hair on Sulley alone still remains an achievement, with each strand reacting individually to his body movements. It's very realistic and captivating to look at. The designs of the monsters are appropriately creepy, but very fun. Best of all, despite their exaggerated proportions the Pixar animators have animated them very well. Mike in particular is incredible. Even though he only has one eye he is very expressive. They got a lot of mileage out of Mike's face, limitations and all. The locales are very pretty, but I find it kind of disappointing that they didn't make them as surreal as the characters than inhabit it. The textures and designs are realistic, but I wish they took more liberties when creating an all-monster world.
If you want something more family friendly but at the same time its very smart, Monsters Inc. is it. Since its release Pixar has done better movies in technology and storylines, but Monsters Inc. remains a fantastic humor full of heart and humor.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5