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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pixargust: Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Remember being afraid of monsters as a child? Remember how we always had to look under the bed for them? Or how about looking for shadows in the closet? Weird sounds outside in the trees? I remember thinking there were all kinds of monsters in my room: not as much under my bed as in the closet. I think everyone was at one point terrified of monsters. That was, at least, until Pixar's newest film Monsters, Inc. came out. I think all of us were relieved that they really weren't as scary as we thought. They're just doing their jobs like mom and dad. Looking back on it, I always thought this was a neat idea and it still holds up today. From what I looked up, it managed to be just as successful as any Pixar film. Maybe even more so. It managed to rake in over $525 million at the box-office, almost beating The Lion King's record back then. It also as usual got good marks from audiences despite some lawsuits back then, but I'll leave that up for you to research. By this point, it was the most successful Pixar film to date. Let's go in our closets and into the world of monsters with Monsters, Inc. 

In a world parallel to ours, the city of Monstropolis is a lot like ours. Only it has monsters in it. And it's main source of energy is children's screams as apposed to electricity. At the Monsters, Inc. company, employees called "scarers" venture into children's bedrooms to collect these screams using closet doors as portals. There are problems with this job, though: they believe that human children are highly toxic and that they are becoming harder and harder to scare thanks to television and video games. Trying his hardest to keep up with demand, the company chairman Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) tries hiring new monsters but with little success. The company's top scarer, James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) or Sully as his best friend and coworker Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) calls him, has a lot of competition on his hands: namely a chameleon-like monster named Randall (Steve Buscemi) and his assistant Fungus (Frank Oz). While Mike takes his girlfriend Cecelia (Jennifer Tilly) out one night after work, Sully finds a white door with flowers is still on the scare floor. So he opens it to see if anyone is still there, but accidentally lets in a very young girl in the factory. This causes mass hysteria and mayhem as Mike and Sully try to hide the child from the notorious Child Detection Agency. They try to pass her off as a young monster at the factory the next day. It seems to work as Sully develops a bond with the child, who he now names Boo, and Randall is on to them. He reveals that he's been working on an invention that will collect screams faster, but it may literally suck the life out of the victim. As the two rush to reveal Randall, they find that Waternoose endorsed this and have Mike and Sully banished to the Himalayas where they meet the Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger). Now with their friendship on thin ice, Sully rushes to the nearby village to get back to the factory and save Boo, leaving Mike behind after a heated argument. Mike does come back and they make up, agreeing to help Boo and stop Randall and Waternoose. The C.D.A. eventually find out after Waternoose unintentionally reveals himself and they do get Boo back home safe. After they may have shut down the factory  for good, they found out from experience with Boo that laughter is more powerful than scream and this saves the factory. Sully finds Boo's door once again and is reunited with his dear friend on the other side.

Let's start with the concept because, honestly, it is a pretty creative one. While the idea of monsters scaring children because it's their jobs has been done before, the idea of using these screams as a power source and the children themselves being an occupational hazard was unique. It basically does for monsters what Toy Story did for toys. It opens a new perspective of something from our youth. While these were our worst nightmares, the movie mostly plays this classic fear for laughs and it does work in clever ways.

The characters are also fun. Mike and Sully are great leads and they do have a good on-screen chemistry. Boo is really, really adorable. She's cute, but not too cute. She actually behaves like a real three-year old would act. So I really like her. The rest of them are entertaining, but the character that I found the most fascinating was Randall. He really is an intimidating monster. That design is cool, his ability to perfectly camouflage himself and then pop out of nowhere is really scary, and once again the voice acting by Steve Buscemi is top-notch. Scared the bejebus out of me when I was a kid. If there is one complaint I have, it's that they're not quite as fleshed out as the Toy Story characters are. When considering the Toy Story movies, they're generally established before they set about doing things which affect the plot. Monsters, Inc.'s characters never fully engage or flesh-out. We ultimately warm-up to them a bit, but for the most part, they're just going through the motions. They're not bad at all, they could have been fleshed out more.

As expected, the animation quality has once again set standards for the future. With every character gracefully and characteristically animated, every virtual set just right and pleasing to look at, and an eye-tickling mastery of color, fantastic light and shade quality, the animation is pure eye candy. Sully's fur, the fabrics on Boo's clothes, and the further improved details on the doors and the world around them are prime examples. Speaking of characters, I really love all these designs for the monsters in this film. They're not too scary and the Pixar artists did a wonderful job making sure each design was unique.

On top of that, it's funny. Really funny. While it seems a little more frenetic than inspired at times, there's jokes for everyone. Kids will enjoy most of the physical comedy while the grown-ups will appreciate some of the in-jokes that this movie has, like one of the restaurants is called Harryhausen's, named after stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. The film also has a lot of heart in it too. While it is a comedy, there's still those moments where the film just tugs at your heartstrings like when Sully discovers that scaring children just might be wrong. It's not perfect, but the heart does mesh with the comedy very nicely.

I'll admit, I did get watery-eyed watching this part.
In conclusion, Monsters, Inc. has something for everyone. While it does lean more on comedy than heart and the characters could be more three-dimensional, it has an engaging narrative, beautiful animation, creative concepts, and a fast-pace to it make it a fun experience. In fact, I'm not even bothered that there's a prequel coming out next year. As long as the characters have the same sense of fun as they do here, it should do fine. For now, I am happy I got to watch this movie again. Perfectly blending humor with heart isn't easy, but this film does a decent job. But there are a few that do it better. Join me next time to see one of these.

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