Now here's something that sounds like a bad idea-- a movie for children that proposes that, yes, monsters really do sneak out of your closet door into your room, and they even occasionally hide under the bed!
But in the reliable hands of Pixar Studios, "Monsters Inc." is another 3D comic masterpiece for the whole family. What's REALLY scary is how good these guys are, so far shooting 100% when it comes to producing wonderful movies.
And with slim pickins in traditional Oscar fare, maybe the Academy will finally recognize it. They should have with both "Toy Story" movies; each of which was better than any of the movies nominated for Best Picture in its respective year.
John Sullivan (the voice of John Goodman) is the top "scarer" at Monsters, Inc., the power company that provides energy to Monstropolis. The company harnesses the power of children's screams, by sending monsters through closet doors to give kids a good spook. Because, thanks to movies and video games, kids are getting harder to scare, there is a power shortage (headlines proclaim "Rolling Blackouts!").
Now this might seem like a nasty way to power a city, but it turns out that monsters are even more afraid of children, whom they are told are toxic to the touch. When a monster comes back with a sock stuck to his back, the decontamination SWAT team swoops in to hose him down and dispose of the contagion. (This probably would have seemed funnier a couple of months ago, but hey, at least Disney had the guts to not change or delay the movie).
Sully is a gentle furry giant, and his sidekick at the factory where bedroom closet doors become portals to the human world, is wisecracking Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a giant eye with little green arms and legs.
Sully and his slimy, chameleon-like chief rival, Randall Boggs, (Steve Buscemi of "Fargo") are competing for the scare record for one month. When Roland stays late trying to cheat by adding to his record after hours, a girl toddler enters Monstropia through the portal.
She attaches herself to Sully, whom she calls "Kitty," and Sully discovers that human children aren't poisonous after all. However, her presence causes a panic in the city. Soon, Sully is forced to make a choice between "Boo," --as he dubs her after she discovers she can throw monsters into a tizzy by saying it-- and the system he has served faithfully for many years.
Late in the film, there is a wonderful scene where Sully illustrates his scaring technique to some new employees, and he gets to see through Boo's eyes just what a lousy business he is in.
"Monsters Inc." is another wonderfully warm, funny, adventurous, and fantastic looking effort from Pixar. The background details of the city are stunning (and the jokes aren't bad either like the "Grossery" store), and for once, the human figure looks awfully good-- and, of course, darn cute. The voice acting by all concerned is also wonderful.
It might be a bit plot heavy for very young children, say under 5, but its digs at corporate life, the media, and hysteria in general work great for the grownups. The ultimate point that children's laughter is more powerful than their screams, and that friendship is stronger than fear, will work for all ages.
"Monsters, Inc." doesn't have the nostalgia pull that the "Toy Story" movies use so effectively, but it is still good enough to give "Shrek" a run for its money in the new Best Animated Film Oscar category. In fact, this year, both movies should get Best Picture consideration. For once, with "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" set to be released, MOST of the films may have child appeal in this category. That would be a strange cap to a strange movie year.