Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly
Directed by: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich
I’m an unabashed Pixar fan, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few times in a few different reviews. So, yeah, this review is probably just an excuse to come closer to completing my collection of fawning reviews of their movies (well, except for that Cars movie). And, hey, what’s a better time to talk about a movie about monsters than Halloween?
I consider Monsters, Inc. to be right in the middle of Pixar’s eight movies in terms of quality. I originally listed it at number five on my Top 5 Pixar films list (although would probably bump it off the list now in favour of Ratatouille). It’s not quite as thrilling as is The Incredibles, or as breathtaking as is Finding Nemo. Instead, its merely an entertaining, endearing, and creative family fun that delivers everything you should expect from family entertainment, while being superior to most cynical delivery systems of happy meals or digital babysitters that pass for animated family features these days (basically, what I’m saying is that Shrek owes Monsters, Inc. an Oscar).
What struck me while re-watching Monsters, Inc. recently (besides how impressive the animated fur on Sulley is), is how wonderfully creative the entire movie is. It’s obvious why a computer animation company would want to do a movie about monsters, as they allow for a lot of visual creativity as well as opportunities to show off the new animation toys (i.e., Sulley’s fur). Plus, monsters are a staple of children’s programming and literature. But a lesser animation studio wouldn’t have gotten much further than “let’s do a movie with monsters”, before they just stuffed the thing full of monsters that resembled the famous celebrities hired to voice them running around spastically riffing on pop culture while providing opportunities for product placement.
Pixar, however, is much more creative than that, and came up with the idea that monsters live in another world, powering their Monstropolis city through children’s screams, which they collect by visiting their rooms through door portals. The monsters aren’t evil, and in fact fear contact with children, they just need our screams, so scaring children is their nine-to-five.
It’s a wonderfully ingenious idea that allows for a tightly-plotted adventure, following top Monsters, Inc. scarer James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) and his co-worker and best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). When a preschool girl (Mary Gibbs) follows an untended portal door into the monster world, chaos breaks out, revealing the dark underbelly of Monsters, Inc. to Sulley and Mike, with exciting chase scenes, impending doom, and a whole lot of adorable courtesy of “Boo” (Gibbs).
Billy Crystal’s Mike Wazowski is probably as close as Pixar has ever come to having the standard post-Aladdin comedian who tries to dominate the movie with his or her jokes that has appeared in most American animated movies in the past fifteen years. However, even here Pixar proves more adept than most, using Crystal’s genial charm without letting him steal scenes or fill time by riffing. It’s probably his best work since City Slickers.
In all, Monsters, Inc. is a wonderful family film with outstanding animation and heart-warming characters. It might get lost in the impact made by movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, but it’s still a great movie in its own right, and better than that of most American animation studios.