Computer animation leader-of-the-pack Pixar Studios doesn't just create visually astonishing, wildly amusing kiddie cartoons. The company's clever creative team also comes up with the most inventive, least clichéd plots that children's movies have seen in at least a decade.
Any five minutes of "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2" or "A Bug's Life" is more original and more entertaining than the entirety of most flicks aimed at the adolescent demographic -- and Pixar has done it again with "Monsters, Inc.," a witty, warm and wonderful CGI 'toon about the scary, hairy beasts that lurk in our closets and under our beds at night.
The story takes place in a parallel monster world where electrical power is generated through the bottled screams of Earthly children. Big, burly, blue-furred, horn-headed James P. Sullivan (voice of John Goodman) is the top scare-maker at Monsters, Inc. -- the electric utility of the monster world. He's a friendly, blue-collar joe who jumps through dozens of closet doors a day, which rotate through his factory floor work station on a high-tech conveyor, operated by Sulley's best pal, Mike (Billy Crystal) -- a squat, green, walking pool ball with one huge eye that takes up half his body.
An energy crisis has struck Monstropolis because human kids are growing jaded -- they just don't scare as easily as they used to. But Sulley and Mike have a bigger problem on their hands: A giggly little girl, who isn't afraid of them at all, has slipped into their world through a closet door they left open. The pair has to hide the toddler and sneak her back home before anyone finds out.
You see, monsters are deathly afraid of children.
When something as innocuous as a kid's sock slips through security -- say, static-clung to the back of a spookster in the course of his job -- haz-mat crews from the Child Detection Agency descend like SWAT teams to decontaminate the joint and quarantine the offending monster. So just imagine the kind of trouble Sulley and Mike are in for when an entire kid slips through on their watch.
Of course, the 2-year-old girl is so cute that Sulley takes a shine to her (he calls her "Boo," she calls him "Kitty!") and discovers that kids aren't toxic at all. But he soon discovers something much worse to be afraid of -- a scuzball co-worker (a slithering, chameleonic gargoyle voiced by Steve Buscemi) plans to single-handedly solve the energy crisis by kidnapping children and strapping them into frightful scare machines to extract a constant supply of screams.
Co-directors Peter Docter, David Silverman and Lee Unkrich do a sublime job of bringing these colorful characters to life, and finding that fine line between scary and cute. Sulley is downright cuddly when he's off-duty and engaged in the amusing antics of trying to return Boo to her bedroom before anyone finds out he's harboring a crossover child.
"Monsters, Inc." is endless fun, but it really shines in four ways. 1) The perfectly tuned performances of Goodman and Crystal. 2) The infinite reserve of comical asides, including hilarious monsters-in-training drills and the fact that Loch Nessie and the Abominable Snowman are Monstropolis exiles. 3) The screenplay, by Pixar staple Andrew Stanton, which is entirely fresh from beginning to end. And, of course, 4) The movie's artistic accomplishments are another amazing leap forward in computer animation.
It's easy to wonder at the obvious stuff, like ultra-realistic movement of Sulley's fur in the wind. But the fact that Pixar characters become more realistically expressive with every film just continues to astound. Even Mike -- all mouth and one eye -- has a full range of colorful facial expressions.
Just as eye-popping is the world created for this movie, a fully-realized, 3-D spectacle put to the test in a scene that finds our heroes riding the roller coaster-like Monsters, Inc. conveyor system in a desperate attempt to find Boo's closet door among millions stored in a towering warehouse of crisscrossing tracks that zip doors along at break-neck speeds.
Held to the incredibly high entertainment standard of its Pixar predecessors, "Monsters, Inc." isn't an instant classic like the "Toy Story" pictures were. But it is the best kids-of-all-ages movie of the year -- yes, even better than "Shrek."
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd November 2001
Box Office USA: $34.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $558.5M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Distribution Compa
Production compaines: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 185 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Starring: John Goodman as Sullivan (voice), Billy Crystal as Mike (voice), Mary Gibbs as Boo (voice), Steve Buscemi as Randall (voice), James Coburn as Waternoose (voice), Jennifer Tilly as Celia (voice), Bob Peterson as Roz (voice), John Ratzenberger as Yeti (voice), Frank Oz as Fungus (voice), Steve Susskind as Floor Manager (voice), Bonnie Hunt as Flint (voice), Jeff Pidgeon as Bile (voice), Samuel Lord Black as George (voice), Jack Angel as Additional Voices (voice), Bob Bergen as Additional Voices (voice), Rodger Bumpass as Additional Voices (voice), Gino Conforti as Additional Voices (voice), Jennifer Darling as Additional Voices (voice), Patti Deutsch as Additional Voices (voice), Pete Docter as Additional Voices (voice), Bobby Edner as Additional Voices (voice), Ashley Edner as Additional Voices (voice), Paul Eiding as Additional Voices (voice), Katie Scarlettr as Additional Voices (voice), Bill Farmer as Additional Voices (voice), Keegan Farrell as Additional Voices (voice), Pat Fraley as Additional Voices (voice), Teresa Ganzel as Additional Voices (voice), Taylor Gifaldi as Additional Voices (voice), Marc John Jefferies as Additional Voices (voice), Joe Lala as Additional Voices (voice), Noah Luke as Additional Voices (voice), Sherry Lynn as Additional Voices (voice), Danny Mann as Additional Voices (voice), Mona Marshall as Additional Voices (voice), Mickie McGowan as Additional Voices (voice), Laraine Newman as Additional Voices (voice), Kay Panabaker as Additional Voices (voice), Bret 'Brook' Parker as Trailer Mom (voice) (as Bret Parker), Philip Proctor as Additional Voices (voice), Josh Qualtieri as Additional Voices (voice), Guido Quaroni as Additional Voices (voice), Jan Rabson as Additional Voices (voice), Lisa Raggio as Additional Voices (voice), Joe Ranft as Additional Voices (voice), Katherine Ringgold as Additional Voices (voice), Sophia Ranft as Additional Voices (voice), Bob Scott as Additional Voices (voice), Jim Thornton as Additional Voices (voice), Lee Unkrich as Additional Voices (voice), Wallace Shawn as Rex (outtakes) (voice) (uncredited), Dan Gerson as Needleman / Smitty (voice), David Silverman as Additional Voices (voice)
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