REVIEW: Monsters, Inc. [2001]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: G | Runtime: 92 minutes | Release Date: November 2nd, 2001 (USA)
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios / Buena Vista Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Pete Docter / David Silverman & Lee Unkrich (co-directors)
Writer(s): Andrew Stanton & Daniel Gerson /
Pete Docter, Jill Culton, Jeff Pidgeon & Ralph Eggleston (original story)


If there is one film type where a laundry list of screenwriters can actually help the finished product, it’s the animated feature. Sparked by the simple idea of “Let’s make a movie about monsters”, Pete Doctor’s directorial debut evolved immensely from its brainstorming lunch origins in 1994. What would ultimately become Pixar Studios’ second most inspired fantasy world piggybacked on the shoulders of a child’s imagination—the first being Toy Story’s brilliant concept of toys living full lives when humans weren’t looking—Monsters, Inc. took us inside the dark, scary closets we’ve all feared held the Boogeyman. But while its birth concerned a 30-year old adult remembering the creatures of his youth before turning into a buddy romp pairing a human with a monster, its final iteration contained its true genius.

With a screenplay ultimately credited to Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson, Monstropolis was brought to life as a universe run on the power of children’s screams. Like humans on Earth, monsters work and live regular existences by driving cars, eating out for dinner, and populating the streets in harmony. The main difference between our two worlds—besides fur, slime, and number of eyeballs—becomes the replacement of electric companies with establishments such as the titular Monsters, Inc. Here professional scarers such as James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) go coast-to-coast entering through a factory’s worth of trans-dimensional doorways to the rooms of sleeping youngsters. Assisted by his best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), each scream earned by Sulley’s scares fill an energy receptacle that’s then used as the lifeblood of the city.

As we’re all too aware in this day and age, energy doesn’t exist without its fair share of controversy and crises. With children maturing at a rapid pace and consequently growing desensitized to the horrors of monsters and other violent beasties, scaring isn’t what it used to be. Kids have become braver and conversely started to scare the scarers due to the monster world being built on an unsubstantiated notion human children are dangerous and lethal to the touch. So with every door opened onto a fearless child more inclined to get up and inspect his/her personal nightmare than shriek, the scarers scream in terror themselves before running back through the portal in the hope they weren’t contaminated—the wooden entryway shredded to ensure no one else will risk their life in vain.

This new development causes a scare shortage only the best scarers can hope to resolve. But while guys like Sulley and Mike simply hone their game to become more productive, less savory monsters decide to take matters into their own hands. A good versus evil dynamic is created between Sulley’s over-achieving furry beast and Randall Boggs’ (Steve Buscemi) chameleon-like cloaking lizard until the former stumbles upon the latter working off the clock late one night. Curious as to why a white door with flowers is still docked on the scaring floor, Sulley opens it to see what’s on the other side. Assuming the darkened room empty, he exits back through only to realize the young girl who should have been in bed followed. The adorable Boo (Mary Gibbs) arrives and cutely conceived chaos ensues.

Less about preventing Randall’s secret plan like generic children’s work would readily do, Monsters, Inc. utilizes the Pixar standard of creating worlds populated by three-dimensional characters growing and learning as the plot progresses. Yes Randall provides the key antagonistic force with which to propel Sulley and Mike on their quest of saving Boo, but the ultimate message at hand is watching their two hearts thaw to see the magic children hold. Their adventure is about altering the very fabric of monster civilization and discovering their previous fears—like those of the humans—are baseless and completely blown out of proportion. Boo becomes the catalyst to show us how monsters possess feelings and emotions while they discover their growling, sharp teeth, and bared claws aren’t just a job but also the cause of nightmare.

Monstropolis is gorgeously animated with its eccentric cast of cartoonish horrors proving to merely be giant creatures with puppy dog mentalities. Randall is a formidably evil inclusion whose ability to scare becomes crucial to the plot’s success; CEO Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) a prickly, deep-voiced force due to his coming from a past generation; and office manager Roz (Bob Peterson) a comic relief of indifferent contempt, but the rest of the crew seem otherwise more prone to cuddles than scares. With Sulley’s huge heart and Mike’s sarcastic neuroses—a Crystal staple—the film perfectly diffuses the stigma inherent with their ilk to allow Boo and us to fall in love. They become her protectors to the point where kids watching may actually begin hoping a monster is inside their closet.

There are a ton of laughs, even more gushing at Boo’s gibberish, and an invigorating climactic race through the company’s dry-cleaning-esque repository of doors. Similar to one of my childhood favorites Little Monsters—where the portal between worlds was under the bed—Monsters, Inc. has us befriending the very creatures we’ve always feared. We meet Sulley and Mike as they try to save a way of life that has endured through generations and end up witnessing their metamorphosis from bully to buddy as the power of laughter proves the strongest of all. With an impressive amount of emotional gravitas towards the end culminating in one of the best final shots in cinematic history, Pete Doctor et al. lived up to the Toy Story standard and officially cemented Pixar as the studio for all others to aspire towards.

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