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"MONSTERS, INC."
(2001) (voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal) (G)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: In a place where monsters scare kids as a business to collect screams that power their world, two of them must deal with a young human girl who's entered their domain and threatens to upset their way of life.
PLOT:
At Monsters, Inc. it's the job of a wide variety of monsters to enter children's bedroom closets at night, scare them, and then collect their screams that provide the power for Monstropolis. According to the crab-like CEO, Henry J. Waternoose (voice of JAMES COBURN), however, human kids have become harder to frighten, and thus the monsters are facing an energy shortage.

Thus, he wants James "Sulley" Sullivan (voice of JOHN GOODMAN), the top "scarer" at Monsters, Inc. to teach the new recruits how to spook children. A furry, blue-haired monster, Sully is good at his job - thanks in part to the prep work done by his assistant and roommate, Mike Wazowski (voice of BILLY CRYSTAL), a squat, one-eyed green monster - but now faces competition from Randall Boggs (voice of STEVE BUSCEMI), a scheming, eight-legged creature who can turn invisible.

As their competition intensifies, they all know the guiding principle that children are toxic, contact with them is very dangerous and that they're never, ever, to allow any of the children to cross through the closet door and back into the Monster, Inc. factory. Yet, that's exactly what happens when the cranky office manager, Roz (voice of BOB PETERSON), demands that Mike turn in his late reports. Since he has a date with the Medusa like Celia (voice of JENNIFER TILLY), Sulley decides to do the work for him.

When he goes to retrieve the paperwork, however, he notices one closet door that's been left on the factory floor. Going to investigate, he inadvertently allows a young girl, Boo (voice of MARY GIBBS), to cross over into his world. Scared of the girl who sees him as just a big furry plaything that she calls "Kitty," Sulley panics and tries to figure out what to do.

Getting Mike involved with his new problem, the two try to hide the girl and get her back into her world before anyone sees her with them, all while uncovering a diabolical plot that Randall has hatched.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Although I don't know if it's a global or more contemporary truth, ask just about any young kid what's in his or her closet or under their bed and they'll tell you that it's not clothes, toys or dust bunnies. No, it's monsters that reside there, or at least conveniently arrive just as the lights go out and then patiently wait a while, all the better to scare kids.

Parents, of course, are inevitably called upon to soothe the frightened little ones, but has anyone thought about the monsters and their feelings? After all, they're just putting in their hours doing their jobs of scaring kids to collect their screams that are used to power their world. C'mon, doesn't everyone know that?

If not, they will after watching "Monsters, Inc." the latest clever and highly enjoyable computer-animated feature from the imaginative folks at Pixar. Much as they did with the similarly witty and entertaining "Toy Story" films, the filmmakers here have taken a simple childhood notion - monsters in the closet just like toys that are alive and lead their own lives in those other films - and turned it into a fun, imaginative and completely engaging story.

Did I mention it was computer generated? Perhaps we're becoming more acclimated to the tremendous strides in such filmmaking or it's becoming so good we're no longer distracted by it, but the film doesn't have the same "wow" quotient as previous efforts and I only mean that in the best way.

Yes, the effects are wondrous - particularly the movement of thousand or millions of strands of hair - and the overall look and fine details are truly inspired. While the filmmakers didn't go for photo-realism, the picture is nothing but one long and continuous bit of glorious eye candy.

Yet, the story is so innovative and fun, and, like the characters, is so engaging that we quickly forget that we're watching a complex series of 0s and 1s as we become caught up in the proceedings. As was the case with the "Toy Story" films," there's no better compliment than that and the filmmakers should be proud of their efforts and finished product.

Seemingly inspired by the near lunatic imagination of director Tim Burton - the creatures and locales will remind one of bits from "Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" - and some of the old Looney Tunes shorts - particularly the nightmare door factory scenes and the monsters just doing their job (which is reminiscent of Ralph the wolf and Sam the sheepdog clocking in, putting in their hours as adversaries, and then going home friends), the film is one of those efforts that deserves and pretty much requires a second viewing.

That's not only because it's so entertaining, but also because at times it's so chockfull of imaginative details - a restaurant is named Harryhausen's after the legendary stop-motion animator, etc. - that you can't catch all of them in one passing.

As was the case in Pixar's previous works - that also include "A Bug's Life" - the vocal work is terrific with many of the characters seemingly being fashioned after those who voice them rather than the latter simply coming in to supply the voices. As the top "scarer" of the month who also just so happens to be a big teddy bear at heart, John Goodman ("My First Mister," "One Night at McCool's") is perfect in the vocal qualities with which he infuses his character.

As his buddy, Billy Crystal ("America's Sweethearts," "Analyze This") is also good, and the filmmakers - director Pete Docter (making his debut after serving as supervising animator on "Toy Story"), co-directors Lee Unkrich ("Toy Story 2") and David Silverman (making his feature film debut), and screenwriters Andrew Stanton ("A Bug's Life," "Toy Story") and Daniel Gerson (making his feature film debut) - have made sure to give him some typical Billy Crystal type material with which to work. Although it might sound familiar, it's still funny and is amusing coming from a green and squat, one-eyed monster.

Jennifer Tilly ("Liar, Liar," "Bound"), James Coburn ("Affliction," "Eraser") and Steve Buscemi ("Domestic Disturbance," "Ghost World") are also good, but the whole bit with the latter's character as the obligatory villain is the film's one weak point. Although most drama and comedy stems from conflict that arises when you have characters with opposing goals, the villain and the associated diabolical plans don't always possess the same imaginative flair as does most of the rest of the proceedings.

While it's clearly not a bad element, it could have been jettisoned in favor of the two major characters simply trying to deal with Boo - voiced by young Mary Gibbs (the daughter of Pixar story artist Rob Gibbs) -- suddenly being in their world and then trying to get her back into hers. Their facing the many complications and consequences of doing so could have provided all of the fun the film needed without resorting to the standard villainy.

Even so, and despite some of the film's slower and less imaginative moments related to all of that and a second half that favors adventure over the cleverness that permeated the first, the film is nearly nonstop entertaining and contains some fun surprise moments, including a few scenes with a certain monster from a Christmas TV special we all grew up with.

Although not quite reaching the same level as the two "Toy Story" films as it's missing that intangible something extra to bump it over into the realm of brilliance, the film is highly entertaining, imaginative and should please adults just as much as it does kids. "Monsters, Inc." rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed October 18, 2001 / Posted November 2, 2001


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