Monsters, Inc was probably the movie that signaled to most of the world that the Pixar team was really onto something special. Oh sure, Toy Story was award-winning and groundbreaking and Toy Story 2 showed growth and blah, blah, blah, but A Bug’s Life was a mild disappointment and there was always a chance that the company was a one toy pony. Monsters, Inc solidified the Pixar formula and proved that clever, emotionally rich, and technically stunning work could be produced by the CGI dream team at will. Now that the film is (get ready to feel old) 11-years old and sliding back out into theaters in 3D, it’s clear just how special of a family flick it was. The movie remains just as funny and warm as ever, with a rather ingenious central concept strong enough to make the upcoming sequel something to look forward to. It’s not the finest film Pixar has produced over the years, but it could very well be their most easily appealing.
In case you somehow missed Monsters, Inc or haven’t had access to a child over the last decade, I suppose some sort of synopsis is in order. You know those monsters you always saw in your closet as a wee lad? Well, they were real and also working class stiffs. There’s an alternate universe of monsters out there that thrive and survive off of scaring the crap out of kids. The children’s screams run the monster metropolis and the big blue furball Sulley (John Goodman) is the guy who gets the biggest screams in the business. He’s got an endearingly annoying buddy named Mike (played by the endearingly annoying Billy Crystal) and an evil rival voiced by Steve Buscemi (who else?). The monsters are all convinced that children are poisonous and think nothing of their work until Sully accidentally brings an impossibly cute little girl named Boo into his world. It’s immediately clear that monsters aren’t allergic to kids and that kids are totally adorable, so Sully becomes conflicted. Of course, that doesn’t sit too well with James Coburn’s monster boss, who wants the kid disposed of before word gets out. They do still need children’s screams to power their city over all. Then again, every time Boo laughs it tends to make all the fuses in the area explode from a power surge.
It’s all very simple children’s fantasy stuff and that’s part of what sets it apart from most of the Pixar jams out there. While Pixar vets like director Pete Doctor (Up) and screenwriter Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) have their fingerprints all over this thing, a key name in the credits is co-director David Silverman. That man has been a key figure with The Simpsons for decades (personally directing dozens of episodes) and his involvement signals tone of the film. Monsters, Inc is probably the most purely funny entry in the Pixar canon. There’s still a strong story with an emotional payoff guaranteed to make anyone with a beating heart tear up, but for the most part the film goes for laughs.
It’s a high concept comedy with more in common with Little Monsters than Toy Story and one with the high hit-to-miss ratio and screwball pacing required. Even the voice casting is comedy centric with Goodman and Buscemi delivering on their usual personas and the film even getting away with some Billy Crystal casting thanks to making the character a bit of a hack comedian himself. Unlike Shrek, which debuted the same year, it’s aged well because the film follows classic comedic storytelling principles without a single pop culture reference or Smash Mouth single in sight to embarrassingly date the movie and dilute the fun.
Obviously the flick has been put through the 3D process and while retro-fitting 3D can sometimes be a fairly irritating and useless process, Pixar is good at it. At least the digital source can be easily augmented and manipulated in a computer for the 3D effect. And the other thing to remember is that early CGI flicks like Monsters Inc. tended to exaggerate depth and wild camera moves since the concept of 3D animation was so novel that it could blow up audiences’ brains even without glasses that made characters poke out from the screen. So, the retrofitted 3D works and a handful of sequences (especially the million door climatic chase) actually suit the format well. Of course, despite those plastic glasses, chances are you’ll be buying a ticket for the movie itself and the good news is that it’s aged quite well. As long as you don’t expect the emotional gut-punch of Finding Nemo or the intelligent auteur filmmaking of Ratatouille or Wall-E, the film is pretty well impossible to hate.
This is unabashed childish fun and about as good as that gets, taking a childhood fantasy everyone who spent time as a kid had and expanding it into wild and unexpected directions (plus John Ratzenburger plays a The Abominable Snowman and there’s absolutely fucking nothing to hate about that). Monsters, Inc is well worth a revisit, if only to get you all giddy n’ excited about the upcoming sequel. I can’t imagine anything else involving Billy Crystal worth getting excited these days, but that’s just how good the Pixar folks truly are. If they can somehow make late period Crystal tolerable, what can’t they do?