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Monsters, Inc (Mark's Take)

01/12/2001. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Monsters, Inc in the USA - or Buy Monsters, Inc in the UK

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Monsters, Inc, won't get many top ten-film nominations, but it won't get many thumbs down votes either. Monsters, Inc, is cute, likable, and a lot of fun.

CAPSULE: MONSTERS, INC., won't get many top ten-film nominations, but it won't get many thumbs down votes either. MONSTERS, INC., is cute, likable, and a lot of fun.

The company of the title puts monsters in children's closets to turn their screams to the energy to power their land. But monsters are more afraid of children than vice versa.

Pixar animated films gets better and better.

Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4).

While the quality of films from the majors in Hollywood seem to be hitting a slump as bad as the stock market's, the field of the animated feature film seems to be an exception.

Animation is getting better and the stories are even occasionally keeping up. There are three major sources of major animated.

There is Disney Enterprises who invented the animated feature; there is Pixar, who do three-dimensional computer animation and release their films through Disney; and there is Dreamscape, a Johnny-come-lately who picked up the digital technology very quickly. Each has its own style specialty.

Disney most frequently mangles some classic story or tells their own story but in the same silly style. Pixar tells sentimental stories aimed at children but so well done that all ages can appreciate them.

It is too early to tell if Dreamscape will stay in the field and have an identifiable style, but certainly their SHREK seems to indicate they may be the wild, irreverent parallel to Disney that Warner Brothers short animated films were in the 1940s and 1950s.

Each three sources should be commended for bucking the tide of most of the majors and almost reliably turning out quality entertainment.

Pixar's MONSTERS, INC., is not a memorable film but it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Parents will enjoy it as much as the kids do. In this modernized fairy tale monsters live in a world parallel to that of children and enter our world to scare us.

One twist: so as not to scare the kiddos, the monsters are really more scared of us than we are of them. Every monster knows that just the touch of a human child can kill a monster. Having monsters from the closet scaring little children is just a matter of business.

The monsters realize that nobody has more energy than children do, so they power their world on the screams of children. The world's power company is called Monsters, Inc. (which I guess is like us naming our power company Humans, Inc.).

Their slogan is "We scare because we care." The best of the scarers is James "Sully" Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), a big fellow whose "wild thing" looks belie a pleasant and sympathetic nature. His best buddy is a walking eyeball by the name of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). He is Sully's trainer but has a hankering to try his skills though he is not nearly as good at scaring children.

One day this neat set-up starts to go awry when a little girl, a sweet confection of a child nicknamed Boo, crosses the border to the world of the monsters.

The script by Andrew Stanton and Dan Gerson is full of in-jokes, some in further than others. Few fans of fantasy film will not get the reference to Harryhausen's. (One guy who may not have gotten it is Billy Crystal who said the name as if it were "Harry Hausen.") The script has some obvious logic gaps that should have been mended.

The little girl, supposedly toxic to monsters, touches Sully frequently without his giving it much thought. At one point Boo is given a suit to wear, which she does through a big portion of the film.

She seems much too adept at taking the suit off and putting it back on for a girl of her age. The writing, which starts clever and original toward the beginning, falls back on clichés toward the end including a long time-filling chase and a theme of corporate irresponsibility.

This is really a theme that has been used to death in other films and it seems an atypical lapse in imagination in what otherwise is a clever script.

Not all of the problems the film has are its own fault. Like many films this film has unfortunate echoes of very recent American history. For years the monsters have worried about the possibility of the contamination from a human child entering their world.

Now it has happened and they try to ignore it and continue their business while monsters in decontamination suits try to clean up the problem.

Pixar's animation processes get better with each film they do. Sully really looks like he is covered in real fur and there is real expression in his face. His face seems more expressive than, for example, the faces of the apes in this year's PLANET OF THE APES, in spite of being wholly computer-generated.

In the case of one of the monsters we even see expression in multiple eyes like a spider has and surprisingly it works. Pixar may tread on what might be dangerous ground here.

Filmgoers got irritated at Steven Spielberg because he made them feel sorry for what was really a piece of plastic in E.T. Here people are feeling empathy for what is further from reality, just a set of ones and zeroes stored in a computer.

It is not a problem for the film, but I am a little surprised that being so accomplished in dimensional animation, they did the opening credits in flat animation. It just does not seem like their style.

Pixar's style is the constant flow of ideas and jokes in the margins of the film. This film has what must be hundreds of little film references and ideas packed around the main story. Film allusions are probably just to numerous for the viewer to catch even most of them. In the world of monsters, even the grills of cars look fierce.

There are fun references to films from POLTERGEIST to THE RIGHT STUFF. There is an explanation for the existence of folklore monsters in our world like the Nessie and Bigfoot. This is a funny and imaginative film. It rates a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Included with the film is an animated short, "For the Birds." It is amusing, but is too simple and short to take the place of a cartoon. It is really just a sketch.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2001 Mark R. Leeper

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