Monsters, Inc. (review)

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Out of the Closet

A hideous, leathery, reptilian employee of Monsters, Inc. sulks that his job — eliciting screams from frightened human children — is getting too difficult to accomplish anymore. “The window of opportunity is shrinking,” he complains. “Kids are harder to scare.” That’s part of joke of Monsters, Inc., which wants to do for the monsters under the bed at night what Toy Story did for the playthings that are under there during the day: whether betentacled and slithery, purple and scaly, or green and furry, no matter how many eyes or fangs or arms they have, these monsters are not only adorable, they’ve got lives of their own, too, and monster-y concerns of which we have no conception. Until now.

Monsters, Inc. takes us through the looking glass of Andy’s bedroom… or through the back of the closet, as it were, to the city of monsters — Monstropolis, of course — where creatures of all color, size, and body type live together in harmony. (There’s a good point to bring up to the kids: “The little green ball thing can get along with the big polka-dotted furry thing, and you can’t get along with your little sister?!”) All is not perfect, however: Monsters, Inc., the local power utility, is warning of rolling blackouts. Kids’ screams power the turbines, and with kids so blase these days, a scream shortage is threatening.

The solution to the shortage becomes blazingly obvious to us, if not to the employees of Monsters, Inc., when one of the little tykes passes over into Monstropolis through the transdimensional portal of her closet door. This is a disaster — monsters are terrified of kids; we’re never quite sure why, but it’s funny to see a 7-foot-tall green-and-purple spotted Abominable Snowman type run in horror from a 3-year-old girl, so we’ll let that pass. The furry green-and-purple creature is James P. Sullivan, aka Sulley (the voice of John Goodman: One Night at McCool’s, Coyote Ugly), and he kinda gets attached to cute little Boo (the voice of Mary Gibbs), as he dubs her, and he and his buddy, Mike Wazowski (the voice of Billy Crystal: Analyze This, America’s Sweethearts) attempt to keep her hidden while also trying to figure out what the slinky, sneaky chameleon Randall Boggs (the voice of Steve Buscemi: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Ghost World) is up to — clearly, it’s something more than just trying to steal Sulley’s place of honor as the perpetual Scarer of the Month.

Monsters, Inc. is immensely visually clever, full of detail made for the pristine freeze-frame capabilities of DVD, from newspapers and signs that flash by to the scenes populated by all manner of monsters to the quiet and unshowy but loving attention paid to each individual hair in Sulley’s fur (a far richer and more realistic animation achievement than Dr. Aki Ross’s much-ballyhooed tresses in Final Fantasy.) And the breathtaking finale has a mad, looping quality to it that might make film fans think of The Matrix... on speed.

But though this comes from some of the same creative team as the Toy Story movies, Monsters, Inc. is aimed more at the kiddies: it’s simpler, sweeter, less deeply affecting. The Toy Story films, especially no. 2, are more about the adult nostalgia for childhood than they are about the circumstance of being a child — Monsters touches more on the concerns of childhood that we outgrow and forget: being afraid of monsters, and learning to let go of that fear. Unlike the physical artifacts of childhood — toys — that are still around to remind us of who we once were, that fear isn’t a relic of childhood that sticks with us. Like Toy Story, this is the perfect family film that both kids and parents will get a huge kick out of. But Monsters, Inc. just doesn’t have the power to haunt nostalgic adults the way that Toy Story and its sequel do.

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