Monsters, Inc. (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Due to a severe energy shortage in Metropolis, there is pressure on Mr. Waternoose (voiced by James Coburn), the leader of the company in charge of making sure the city’s power stays on, to motivate the “top scarers,” monsters that sneak into children’s bedrooms to elicit energy-rich screams, and train newbies to become effective at their jobs.
The most important rule is to never leave the closet door open while a scarer is in the bedroom because during that time it serves as a portal to Monstropolis. Equally important is to avoid physical contact with the children because they are believed to be extremely toxic. But somehow a little girl has made it to the monsters’ world. As panic takes over the city, it is up to Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman), best friends and co-workers, to return the human child to her bedroom.
Full of unique-looking and adorable monsters, voices that perfectly match the appearance of each character, and executed with energy so wild that it reverberates, “Monsters, Inc.,” based on the screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson, is entertaining for all ages. What it lacks in narrative sophistication, it makes up for a world that demands a second glance. Seeing the monsters, those in focus as well as those in the background, is like being in candy land: they are colorful and we want to know the flavor of their personalities.
Choosing jazz as an animated film’s score and soundtrack is daring and smart. It is very upbeat, friendly, and welcoming. Children, I think, are used to hearing pop songs that bookend the picture and when the story hits a sad note. Jazz, on the other hand, is new and exciting. It has flavor. It demands attention. When it is the trumpet’s turn to shine, it is near impossible to not want to dance or at least tap one’s toes.
The self-absorption of Mike, a single-eyed, circular green monster with horns, is the source of many of the jokes. He thinks he is so handsome, so romantic, and so funny that the way he sees himself so highly often backlashes. At the same time, his vanity is what makes him adorable. In an early scene, Mike and Sully watch a TV commercial produced by the company they work for. Mike expects to be the star. Instead, his full body appears in it for barely a second and is immediately covered by the company logo. His reaction is priceless.
Even throwaway characters like Roz (Bob Peterson), a very serious lady garden snail in charge of keeping track of the employees’ paperwork, and The Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger), exiled in the Himalayas, are given a chance to be memorable. They either do something unexpected or there is an irony to them–sometimes both. The supporting characters Sully and Mike interact with are never boring. I wished there were more scenes of Smitty and Needleman (Daniel Gerson). Their goofiness is infectious.
The picture has two hearts: the friendship between Mike and Sully and Mike becoming the little girl’s father figure, her protector, as Boo (Mary Gibbs) is hunted by the CDA (Child Detection Agency). The latter’s relationship is effectively executed in the third act as their bond is inevitably cut. We can also interpret their separation as a symbol. Eventually, all children stop believing that monsters are hiding or living in their closets. It is one of the first steps of growing up.
Directed by Pete Docter, the effusive charm of “Monsters, Inc.” can win over just about anybody. It moves quickly, the rapid-fire exchanges are witty at times (“Look at you! You have your own climate!” from Mike to Sully for being so hairy), its characters’ goals are always clear, and it does not rest on cuteness to tell a story.