WFTB Score: 14/20
The plot: Life’s a scream for buddies Sulley and Mike – literally – as Mike is the green one-eyed monster who lines up doors for big furball Sulley to creep through, catching the children’s shrieks to power the city of Monstropolis. But trouble’s afoot: not only are young ones not screaming enough to keep the city going, but Sulley inadvertently lets a girl through the door into the monsters’ world.
Pixar’s fourth feature film sees the computer animation geniuses behind Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back in children’s bedrooms, but this time it ain’t the toys that come to life. No, in Monsters, Inc. the monsters in the cupboard are not only real, they rely on giving kids the shock of their lives in order to get them screaming, providing the energy on which Monstropolis runs; and it’s at this job that blue giant Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) excels, working with his engineer Mikey (Billy Crystal) to break Monstropolis’ scream record before snide camouflage expert Randall (Steve Buscemi) can take the crown. Children are less susceptible to being frightened than in days past, however, causing power shortages and a major headache for factory owner Mr Westernoose (James Coburn), and that’s not the only problem: monsters who come into contact with children or even their clothing are thought to be contaminated, possibly with fatal consequences.
So when Sulley steps through the door into a little girl’s bedroom and he leaves with her on his back, mayhem is guaranteed to follow. Sulley and Mike’s efforts to conceal and return the totally unfazed toddler – named ‘Boo’ by Sulley – end in panic and their banishment to the real world, but not before they learn of Randall’s wicked plans to kidnap children and extract their screams mechanically. After a short stay with the Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger), our heroic duo rush back to save Boo, resulting in a frantic chase through the factory’s huge warehouse of bedroom doors to return the girl through her own before she comes to any harm.
Monsters, Inc. does so many things right you would forgive Pixar for thinking they could do no wrong. The idea behind the story is (like the Toy Story films) a simple and elegant piece of role reversal, with the monsters being terrified of a small child who actually likes them (she calls Sulley ‘Kitty’). Having the child at the age where she can only speak a few words is a masterstroke as it accentuates the need for Sulley to look after her and for the pair to emote through physical contact; the way Sulley and Boo learn to love one another is very touching and makes for a beautiful and entirely unforced end to the movie, bolstered by the solution to Monstropolis’ energy crisis.
As is to be expected, the monsters’ world is impeccably realised, with the creatures all a little bit scary but mostly cute; Sulley is especially adorable, with some stupendous animation employed to render his hair realistically (the way snow sticks to it is most impressive too). The monsters’ workplace – especially the ‘scarefloor’ – is also a thing of beauty, and the film’s climax in and through the warehouse of doors is brilliantly done, a roller-coaster ride which doesn’t exist solely to jazz up the film for 3D viewers (a regrettable trend if ever there was one). I didn’t fall entirely in love with the representation of Boo as a big-eyed, pig-tailed cutie, but she is pleasant enough and even if she doesn’t move like a small girl her facial expressions are always spot-on. It’s probably better to be reminded that we’re watching a cartoon than attempting any form of disturbing photorealism.
The film’s also funny, with some snappy lines and a host of Pixar in-jokes, but there’s a thin quality to the tale which means that it doesn’t flow from one sequence to the next in the same way the best of Pixar does. It’s partly because the story’s not packed with events, but mostly because Monsters, Inc. cannot compete with Toy Story’s impressive roster of characters. Goodman’s Sulley is a lovable good guy with a heart of gold and little else, while Crystal’s familiar stand-up patter means that Mikey remains entirely Crystalline (so to speak), taking those familiar with his voice slightly out of the film: or perhaps that’s just me. It’s an issue for the writers rather than the performer, but Sulley’s wisecracks do eventually wear a bit thin, as does his pursuit of Jennifer Tilly’s snake-haired secretary Celia (though the snakes themselves are great fun). In their parts, Buscemi and Coburn are reliable if devoid of much that makes them memorable.
Monsters Inc. is a wonderful-looking film with a warm heart and, it could be argued, is the last Pixar movie made with the attention on creating fun, rather than exploring what animation is capable of in both a technical and emotional sense. It will pass a very easy 90-something minutes for viewers of all ages, but whilst its characters are exotic in appearance they are, in fact, the ordinary Joes and Joans, good and bad, of the monster world. Perfectly good enough for even the most demanding viewer, naturally, but with Pixar you can’t help wishing for a little bit more. Luckily, their next project was a little-known effort called Finding Nemo.