November 8, 2001

Scary Business

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For those of us who enjoyed the wit of Toy Story and the simple cuteness of A Bug’s Life, Disney and Pixar have brought us another brilliantly animated movie, Monsters, Inc., to delight children and adults alike. While the novelty of computer animation has worn a bit thin, it is hard not to be impressed by the surprisingly detailed facial and corporal expressions of the monsters throughout the film. Like any good children’s movie, Monsters rarely has a dull moment, though occasionally the action is so chaotic that the plot becomes muddled even for adults. The humor in the movie comes mostly from the physical actions of the often-clumsy main characters, rather than the witty dialogue that Toy Story featured.

Set in a monster-sized metropolis that eerily mirrors our own cities, the story follows Monsters, Inc., a giant corporation where the main characters are employed as “scarers.” It turns out that these scarers are the monsters that lurk in children’s closets — a kind of doorway between our world and theirs — waiting for the right moment before they come out and strike. If done correctly, scarers should be able to collect screams from children, which are then used for generating the city’s power supply. Unfortunately, today’s children have become so jaded that they are no longer easily frightened, and Monsters, Inc. is facing a giant energy crisis and possible shutdown if the scarers don’t meet their scream quota.

The main character, James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), is a giant blue and purple intimidating monster with a kind and loveable soul who happens to be the top scarer in the company. On an ordinary day of work with his wacky best friend and assistant, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a little monster that resembles a one-eyed M&M, Sulley encounters every scarer’s worst nightmare: He accidentally brings a child into the monster world. Because children are believed to be incredibly lethal and dangerous to monsters, the arrival of the little girl, who Sully names Boo (Mary Gibbs), not only turns his life upside-down, but disrupts the other monsters’ world as well.

With the Child Detection Agency after them, Sulley and Mike must return Boo back to her room before Sulley’s arch-nemesis, Randall (Steve Buscemi), a creepy chameleon creature, gets his hands on her. While Sulley is trying to accomplish this, he not only becomes attached to Boo, but also uncovers a secret about the company and the power of children that will forever change him.

If the plot and themes sound a little complicated for children to follow, it’s probably true. Nevertheless, Monsters, Inc. contains enough excitement and slapstick humor to keep everyone laughing. In the first half of the movie, the behavioral parallels between humans and monsters, such as Mike putting a giant contact lens over his one eyeball, demonstrate once again the creativity and genius of Pixar animators. Mike’s character is served well by Crystal’s versatile voice. Crystal’s delivery alone might be sufficient to tickle our funny bone, but it is doubly effective when combined with the superb animation. Even with one eye, Mike is able to express a wide range of emotions, ranging from disbelief to euphoric happiness.

Also notable is Sulley’s awkward blossoming love for the adorable Boo, masterfully played through the animation to elicit numerous “awwws” from the audience. Here we see Pixar move on from examining the intimate connection between a child and his toy in Toy Story to a child and her fears in Monsters. The unlikely bond between Boo and Sulley serves to break the taboos of their societies, proving that even the most long held prejudices can be changed by love.

The last third of Monsters is a true animation masterpiece, taking us on a roller coaster chase scene between Randall and Sulley. The only problem is that so much action is packed in the last twenty minutes that it’s easy to lose sight of the plot and just succumb to enjoying the animation. However, Monsters should have no problem following in the footsteps of its blockbuster predecessors. Once again, Pixar has produced a monstrously fun ride that’s suitable for all ages.

Archived article by Yiwei Wang