Monsters, Inc. (2001)


This is up there with my favourite Pixar films of all time. I am constantly surprised by Pixar’s ability to stay fresh in a genre that is so often unoriginal. No film studio has a success strike rate like Pixar and I am constantly surprised at the way they is able to keep producing quality films over and over again. .Monsters, Inc was released in the middle of their heyday, when Pixar could do no wrong. Sandwiched between Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. earns its place among the greatest animated films by combining a great voice cast with a very original story.

Monsters, Inc. is the story of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman). They work for Monsters, Inc. in the city of Monstropolis. Monsters, Inc. is where the city gets all of its power. Sulley is a scarer who will sneak into human children’s’ bedrooms to scare them, and the child’s screams are used to power the city. Sulley is the best scarer at Monsters, Inc. and is very close to breaking his idol’s record for most screams. Standing in his way is the villainous Randall (Steve Buscemi), also hoping to break the record himself. When Randall sabotages one of Sulley’s scream doors, a young human child named Boo (Mary Gibbs) ends up trapped in Monstropolis. Mike and Sulley have to get her back home without the rest of the city finding out there is a human child running amok. You see although the screams of children power their city, monsters in general are terrified of children and would die if they had to see one up close. That is one of the main reasons why the scarers at Monsters, Inc. are so revered among the townsfolk. Mike and Sulley embark on a quest to get Boo back home, while still hoping to break the scaring record.

There is so much to like about this film, but my favourite has to be the voice cast. I am unashamedly a huge Billy Crystal fan and will enjoy everything he is in. City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally are two of my favourite movies of all time, and a lot of that has to do with Crystal’s performances. One of my most enjoyable experiences was seeing his show 700 Sundays live with my dad. The show is the hilarious and moving story of Crystal’s childhood in New York, up until the sudden death of his dad. The fact I saw this show with my own father added to the emotions I’m sure, but it was still an incredible show which I recommend to anyone that wants to hear it. The show was recently released on DVD for those interested.

The chemistry between Crystal and John Goodman is what makes this film special. My favourite moments in the film involve their banter (“Fight that plaque! Scary monsters don’t have plaque!”). I am always amazed when there is chemistry like this in an animated film. In all of the behind the scenes footage I have seen, the voice actors are recording their lines on their own. I think if I was doing an animated film, I would want to record my lines with the whole cast together. I feel like there is so much more room for improvisation that way. I understand that part of the appeal for big stars to make animated films is the fact that they can record their lines whenever and wherever they want and go home, but I would really like to see the results of a cast recording together. It would be really interesting, I think.

One of the things that Pixar films have that many other animated films don’t is heart. You genuinely care about these characters and are invested in their trials and tribulations. It would be so easy for animation studios to slap something together quickly and just release it during school holidays and watch the box office and merchandise fly off the table. This is one of the reasons I respect Pixar so much. They don’t treat their characters like merchandising machines. I’m not saying these films don’t make money, they absolutely do, but it is nice to see a studio that gives kids a little bit of credit and doesn’t just expect them to turn up to the next animated film.

Monsters, Inc. is a fresh and original film with a top voice cast. It is worthy of a place as one of Pixar’s best, and given the quality it is up against, that is no small feat.

Rating: A

Up until the release of Cars 2, Monsters, Inc. held the dubious distinction of being the only Pixar movie I didn’t see in theaters. I’d chalk this up to me being a 16 year old that was too cool for “kid’s movies,” but that’s not the case. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released at roughly the same time, and I definitely saw that in theaters (possibly multiple times). No, I distinctly remember thinking that Monsters looked dumb, and I wouldn’t care if I only saw it on DVD.

I was wrong on both counts. Monsters, Inc. is up there with Pixar’s best work. The story is original and adorable, the chemistry between the actors is excellent, and the animation once again pushed forward CGI capabilities.

Monsters asks a simple question: what if the monsters in kids’ closets are real? The story snowballs on this idea, showing the chaos that ensues after a child accidentally gets let into the monster world. There are great jokes and sight gags built on the characters’ belief that children are toxic, and a devious plan by two of the best villains Pixar has ever thought up.

Story is always Pixar strength, but there are also whizzes at casting. John Goodman and Billy Crystal star as the two main monsters, Sulley and Mike. These two are excellent actors, and it’s wonderful that they lent their voices to this movie. Goodman perfectly captures Sulley’s ferocity and tenderness; Crystal is the comedian of the duo, drawing on his year’s of wisecracking. But the real star of Monsters is Boo, the three-year-old girl who accidentally gets trapped in the monster world. Instead of using an adult voice actor, Pixar recruited Mary Gibbs, the daughter of one of their storyboard artists. Sound techs would follow the then toddler around the recording booth, employing techniques like tickling her for laughter or taking away candy to induce crying (mean!). The result is a character that actually feels like a real kid. It was a risky move that pays off well.

Pixar also pushed the envelope of animation with Sulley’s fur covered body. Rendering all that fur was the big challenge that Monsters tackled. The results are amazing. Sulley looks completely real, with his fur effortlessly moving with him through intense action. This was the studio’s “next leap forward,” something that happens with nearly all of their films.

For a movie I originally wasn’t interested in, I watch Monsters, Inc. at least a few times a year. It is visually fun and amazing, with great comedy that still makes me laugh. And of course, it has that patented Pixar emotion factor. I don’t always tear up during the emotional third act, but there are times when it leaves me shattered. It’s a testament to Pixar’s ability to tell a story that I keep coming back their movies again and again, knowing full well that I may be reduced to tears at some point.

Rating: A

One thought on “Monsters, Inc. (2001)

  1. Pingback: Monsters University (2013) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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