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Non-Review Review: Monsters Inc.

If you don’t love Pixar, you should see a doctor immediately. Because you clearly have no heart, which can lead to all manner of unpleasant complications. Okay, maybe Monsters Inc. is one of the more conventional entries in Pixar’s animated canon, but it’s an example of how – even when being as close to conventional as they can – Pixar are still absolutely incredible, blowing all the other major American animation studios out of the water.

Scarily good...

The premise behind Monsters Inc. is as simple as it is absolutely endearing. The basic premise is that all those monsters who used to hide in your closet when you were a kid are really just employees of a mega-corporation who are gathering the screams of children to operate as a power source for Monstopolis. However, they are literally more scared of the kids than the kids are of them – they have an environmentally-suited CDU – Child Detection Unit – use job it is to quarantine any monsters who come into contact with kids.

We follow the adventures of two monsters, Mike and Sully (ably played by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) who offer a traditional odd couple dynamic. The gigantic blue furry Sully is on his way to become the all-time top scarer, while his shorter, rounder, greener room mate is a fast-talking charmer with delusions of his own importance. When he appears for a split second in a television advertisement (before having the company’s logo super-imposed over his own face), he answers the phone by asking if they just saw the ad – and wasn’t he amazing? – before informing Sully, “it’s your mother”. Goodman and Crystal have a wonderful dynamic, not dissimilar to the chemistry between Tim Allen and Tom Hanks in Toy Story.

Sully and Mike happen upon strange goings on at the company (as you do) and eventually find themselves caring for a young human girl (who Sully helpfully names “Boo”). It’s almost a conventional Disney narrative, a young child spending time being protected by strange creatures – like The Jungle Book or Tarzan – but what’s charming is how beautifully that plot is executed. There’s enough wit and charm in the script and execution to win over the audience. You can predict many of the plot beats – the monsters will eventually come to care for, rather than fearing, their ward; or that there is a conspiracy at work – but it doesn’t reduce the skill with which the plot is carried off.

The movie contains many of themes which define Pixar’s output. The company is having great difficulty in the era of late-night television and shortening childhoods – kids aren’t really kids for that long any more. It’s that sort of cynicism that Pixar seem to revel in rebelling again. It doesn’t matter that childhood grows shorter, because Pixar will always reach inside you and find your inner child, and make them giggle and laugh. Indeed, the movie’s resolution seems a perfect articulation of Pixar’s magic. Of course, Armond White would probably find some sort of validation in the idea that Pixar’s magic is here expressed by a nebulous multi-national corporation that is inherently exploiting children, something he accuses Pixar of from time to time (or everytime that they release a film). The bureacracy of Monsters Inc and it’s cynical manipulation of children may well be a side-swipe at Pixar’s then-collaborator, now-owner Disney – indeed, this movie was released at the height of a public dispute between the companies following the release of Toy Story 2. Or it could all just be as simple as a commentary on the exploitational nature of our major energy conglomerates.

Still, all this is beside the point. What’s important is that the film works. It’s charming, well written and well performed. It’s heartwarming – seriously, if that ending doesn’t bring happy tears to your eyes, nothing will. It’s run-of-the-mill Pixar, which immediately makes it a highest calibre film.

Monsters Inc. isn’t quite as magical as Finding Nemo or as original and innovative as Up or Wall-E, but perhaps a defining example of how, even when they aren’t being exception by their own standards, Pixar are still among the very best and most talented people working in film today.

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4 Responses

  1. Excellent review. Monster’s Inc. is one of those Pixar films I find myself returning to more often than some of the others. It’s a lot of fun, and I love the premise.

    • It’s just great fun, at its core. I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s basically an old-fashioned Disney movie, but done by Pixar.

  2. Monster’s Inc. is definitely a fine example of Pixar talents and I loved that fact that Steve Buscemi’s character looked like him…..
    Can’t wait to see him in Boardwalk Empire!

    • Yep. Buscemi’s great. I think Monsters Inc. might trump Toy Story as my favourite Pixar voice ensemble. Though The Incredibles is pretty awesome (and Finding Nemo has Willem Dafoe).

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