Mar 6, 2015

[Movies] Monsters. Inc. (2001)

So here's the next installment of my reviews of the various Pixar movies. I think this one helps close out the initial gap, although I'll have to work on Toy Story II next week or something. It's an interesting experience, although it often feels like being asked which child I love more when it comes to final scoring and inevitable ranking of these movies. I still won't come up with a "definitive" listing of all movies and how they compare to one another though - down that path lies madness.

But Monsters, Inc. is a strong animated feature with its own share of unique and clever characters. And it had a pretty interesting story, yet another staple of any Pixar animated production.

Monsters, Inc. seemed really funny to me back in the day wasn't quite as amazing in repeat viewings. This doesn't make it a bad movie or anything like that. It's just not quite the same experience after first viewing - but that may just be speaking from the perspective of having seen so many other Pixar movies since this one.

Synopsis: Monsters, Inc. is a 2001 CGI animated buddy comedy movie directed by Peter Docter. The  screenplay was written by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson, and the movie won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The premise behind this movie is that there is a realm of monsters and their city of Monstropolis is largely powered by the screams of children. Thus monsters of all different kinds use special doors to travel to the human world, typically emerging from closets. Sulley (John Goodman) is one such monster and his day job is go back and forth to the human world, trying to scary as many children as he can in order to collect their cries for energy. Mike (Billy Crystal) is his best friend and partner at work since he run's Sully's station (where the special doors are loaded) while he is off scaring.

Scaring children is considered to be a dangerous job as there are many misconceptions about children, such as how touching them is toxic to monsters. On top of that, it seems that the effectiveness of children's screams as an energy source is diminishing over time and there's a potential energy crisis ahead. Sully's main rival on the "Scarefloor" is Randall (Steve Buscemi) and his efforts to put in a little overtime scaring results in a human child (Mary Gibbs) to accidentally cross over into the monster realm. And one thing leads to another to have Sully and Mike the ones stuck wondering what to do with the kid.

As I go over the movie again, the concept alone was pretty crazy. The idea of a whole monster society using special portal-like closet doors to visit our world is an amazing idea. Plus it nicely explained why it always feels like there are monsters in almost every child's closet, and yet they make no efforts to do children any direct physical harm. The movie's concept of a fear of children as dangerous creatures is a funny addition to things and is a good example of more good ideas being woven into the narrative.

Now in real life I'm not sure what a John Goodman and Billy Crystal buddy comedy might be like, but I really enjoyed the characters that Pixar had crafted for this movie. Everyone looks so alien in this movie but the clever writing and the great voice acting by Goodman and Crystal really helped sell the idea that these two very different creatures can in fact be good friends. And while both are good comedians, I don't think we can deny that Billy Crystal carried the greater majority of the jokes in this movie.

What is most brilliant is how much comedy was carried by young Boo, the human child that crossed over. Sure, she largely has one line - "Boo!" but the way this line was used in terms of overall timing and choice moments of opportunity again drove the comedy home. And then she learns how to say Mike's full name as "Mike Wazowski" and again her repetition became a fun element for good laughs as well.

The movie is an interesting statement on the nature of fear and the need to overcome them. The elaborate explanation of how the monster world works and why they scare children is all part of a greater effort to show that even the scariest of creations from our imagination might possibly be explained away in rather mundane terms. And thus the focus of Boo and the need for her to overcome her own fears as well as for monster society to realize they can abandon fear for joy, all of these present interesting metaphors for life. And I really liked the meatiness of this part of the story - a moral that never came across as all that heavy-handed or something.

Monsters, Inc. is definitely one of the more clever Pixar movies out there and I don't think we saw a premise quite as cerebral as maybe The Incredibles afterward. It's still a lot of fun, but personally some of the thrill has been lost over the years, and I can only wonder why this is so. Still, the movie gets a good 4 crazy monster types in the movie out of a possible 5.


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