Monsters, Inc. (2001) – The 4th Pixar Animated Feature – Directed by Pete Docter – Starring John Goodman, Billy Crystal, James Coburn, Mary Gibbs, Jennifer Tilly, and John Ratzenberger.
Until I watched Cars 2, MONSTERS, INC. was my least favorite Pixar movie, which speaks to the high quality of the company’s animated features because I do thoroughly enjoy this film. What I dislike about MONSTERS is that it lacks the emotional punch of Pixar’s other films, and feels narratively lighter than the rest.
Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, and MONSTERS isn’t a bad movie. It plays like a modern Abbott and Costello movie in many ways with its arguing pair of friends in the lead of a simple story made complex by the characters themselves, rather than by the plot. MONSTERS would have been a much simpler and shorter movie if Sully (John Goodman) had simply turned Boo in to the proper authorities rather than trying to put everything back in place before he got in trouble.
Where MONSTERS succeeds first is in its inventive set-up. Sully is a monster. He lives in Monstropolis. His job is to scare kids.
That’s all pretty standard. It’s the reason why the monsters scare the kids, and the manner in which they end up in the kids’ various bedrooms, that works. The monsters need the kids to scream, because the screams are the energy source that powers Monstropolis. Sully isn’t scaring kids just because he’s a monster and monsters scare kids, but because it’s his job. He works at a factory called, yes, Monsters Inc., where he takes a regular shift on the Scare Floor.
The Scare Floor is brilliant. The monsters and their technicians line up in a row on the floor and have doors brought to them on an overhead wire delivery system. All of the doors are kept in a separate room and brought to the floor when the technician calls for them. I love watching the process of machinery work and the system here is both wonderfully complex and wonderfully simple. When the door lands on the Scare Floor its attached to the factory’s trans-dimensional portal, the monsters open it and they pass through into children’s bedrooms to collect their scares.
There’s a growing problem at Monsters, Inc., however, in that kids are becoming harder to scare. It’s a nice acknowledgment that kids are growing up faster than they used to, but the best twist is that the monsters are every bit as afraid of the kids as the kids are supposed to be of the monsters.
Monsters, Inc. has a strict “no touching” policy, informing their employees that even the briefest touch from a child can kill them. When a human sock comes through the portal on the back of one monster, all heck breaks loose. The Child Detection Agency (CDA – an analogue for our CDC) arrives in massive numbers in their full-suit protective uniforms to put Monsters, Inc. on lockdown, seal the sock off, flash fry it to dust, and de-fur and de-contaminate the offending monster.
We get this as prelude to the main plot of MONSTERS, which is when a little girl Sully names Boo follows him from her bedroom back into Monstropolis. Sully avoids having the de-furring treatment because he finds the door on the Scare Floor after hours. Sully checks inside the room to see if a monster is in there and Boo attaches herself to him and comes back through. Before Sully can successfully replace her, Randall (Steve Buscemi) sends the door back to the vault. Randall is Sully’s rival for the top scare score, though the enmity really runs from Randall to Sully until Randall’s dastardly plot is revealed.
While Sully and his technician/best friend Mike (Billy Crystal) are trying to get Boo back to her world as they avoid the CDA, they uncover a plot between Randall and Mosnters, Inc.’s owner Henry J. Waternoose III (James Coburn) to extract screams by force. The company is in trouble and Waternoose has turned to the dark side to save it, the company’s well being trumping his use of morals and ethics.
Sully and Mike get exiled to the Himalayas, where they meet the previously exiled Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger). The look of the Snowman is clearly modeled after the Rankin-Bass “Bumble,” and a nice nod to monsters of days gone by. The newest exiled citizens of Monstropolis argue over what to do – Sully wants to get back and Mike wants to endlessly complain.
The final act is a series of exciting chase sequences using the doors to hop all over the globe as Sully and a returning Mike save Boo, take down Waternoose, and invent a new energy supply – children’s laughter.
MONSTERS, INC. is a good film, but it’s a tasty snack more than a meal. I like it, I own it, I watch it every so often, but the inventiveness of the first 20-30 minutes (including a very well-made opening titles sequence) is quickly consumed by a squabbling buddy film/action movie. It’s not Pixar’s best but it must be remembered that “not Pixar’s best” is still better than most everyone else’s.