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Monsters, Inc., written by Dan Gerson and Andrew Stanton, directed by Pete Docter, 2001, 90 min.

Monsters, Inc. is a funny, fast-paced film, with an assured sense of wit and an all-out commitment to visual impressiveness. Monsters, Inc. might not be as good a film as Toy Story 2 or Chicken Run, but it joins those films, along with Shrek, in proving that it is now children's films that have the best understanding of using big budgets and visual whiz-bangery to tell an interesting story with strong characters. Monsters, Inc. is a real crowd pleaser, and it reaches that rare achievement by balancing all of its elements carefully and with an eye on both immediate and long-term gratification.

Mike and Sully are monsters living in Monstropolis. They work at Monsters, Inc., and it is their jobs to frighten little children so that the company can harvest their screams. Sully is the top scarer, but he is in close competition with the unscrupulous Randall. After a lengthy introduction that sets the tone of the film and shows us the lives of the monsters in Monstropolis and at Monsters, Inc., the movie's story proper begins. Sully discovers that Randall is up to something nefarious, and in the process, a little girl accompanies Sully out of the human world and into the monster world. The received wisdom among monsters is that anything from the human world, and most especially children, is toxic to the monster world (and thus the CPA, Child Protection Agency, which protects monsters, not children). So the hunt is on, Mike and Sully try to save their jobs by hiding the child, and of course they soon grow fond of her. Meanwhile, the plot thickens as they discover what has really been going on at work.

The characters are a bit thin, but adequate to the task. Mike is the smart mouth little guy, Sully the gruff and lovable big guy, Randall the hissable villain, and Boo the ultracute little girl. Fortunately, Pixar cast the right actors for these roles. Not only is the voice casting near perfect, but the actors also disappear into the roles, which makes the character something fresh, without previous associations.

Pixar has been perfecting its technical capabilities over the years, and while I'm going to mention some of the stunning visuals of the movie, I can't emphasize enough that the strength of the movie is actually in the way the visuals are put to service of the story. Eye candy for its own sake is unsatisfying, and Pixar has always understood that. That said, Monsters, Inc. has a lot to feast the eyes on. The monsters are an interesting bunch -- everything from Mike's giant eyeball to the jelly monster who falls through a vent to the crab-like creature who is the boss of Monsters, Inc. -- and the monsters themselves are rendered with great care, especially the main character, Sully. Sully's fur is a wonder to behold. I also liked some of the fast-paced scenes in the movie, like Sully's toboggan ride down a snowy mountain or the climactic chase scene in a colossal storage area for doors in the Monsters, Inc. factory.

Pixar delivers another hit with this film. As I said, I liked this film less than their previous film, Toy Story 2, but they have only themselves to blame for setting their own bar so high!

DVD Note: Monsters, Inc. is available on an excellent 2 DVD set. Along with the movie itself, the first DVD has the full set of outtakes that was attached to the movie in theatres only after it had played for a while (in a greedy attempt to make people see the movie again). These outtakes are generally quite funny, and make good use of moviemaking stereotypes for humorous purposes. The second DVD has almost everything about the movie you could ever wish to know. Everything about the process, from extensive storyboarding, the technical aspects of the computer animation, the injokes in the movie, it's all here. What's more, the DVD booklet actually lays out all the extras in an easily accessible format, in coordination with excellent organization of the extras themselves on the DVD. Well worth taking a look at!


First posted: November 6, 2001; Last modified: January 20, 2003

Copyright © 2001 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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