Monsters, Inc.

English Title: Monsters, Inc.

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Pixar, Walt Disney Pictures

Director: Lee Unkrich, David Silverman, Pete Docter

Producer(s): Andrew Stanton, Kori Rae, John Lasseter, Darla K. Anderson

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Jeff Pidgeon, Daniel Gerson, Ralph Eggleston, Pete Docter, Jill Culton

Art Director: Dominique Lewis, Tia W. Kratter

Editor: Jim Stewart, Robert Grahamjones

Runtime: 92 minutes

Genre: Children’s Fantasy, Animation

Starring/Cast: Jennifer Tilly, Mary Gibbs, Billy Crystal, James Coburn, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Year: 2001

Volume: American - Hollywood

Monstropolis is a city populated entirely by monsters, and Monsters, Inc. is the city’s power company, which generates power through the screams of children from our world that the monsters scare. The Monsters, Inc. power plant houses all the doors to our world through which the monsters can travel (the doors link to closets in children’s bedrooms). A blue, furry monster named Sulley, the company’s ‘top scarer’, and his green, one-eyed best friend Mike discover that a two year-old girl has traveled back with Sulley into Monstropolis, and they must figure out a safe way to get her back while avoiding discovery by their boss and other employees.  

Pixar Studios’ Monsters, Inc. followed 1995’s Toy Story, 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and 1999’s Toy Story 2 as the fourth feature-length animated film from the Silicon Valley-based company, who over the past decade have arguably eclipsed Disney’s traditionally high-quality animated reputation – even though they remain a part of the enormous corporate entity. Monsters, Inc. was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide, and is considered by some critics and audiences (though not necessarily the majority) to be Pixar’s strongest work. Its plot is fairly simple, yet surprisingly heartfelt and message-oriented: children are becoming desensitized to old-fashioned scary monsters because of too much exposure to contemporary television and other real-world distractions. Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) and his best friend Mike (Billy Crystal) work for Monsters, Inc., the primary power company in their city of Monstropolis, which harnesses energy from children’s screams – screams which have traditionally been generated by monsters in closets and in nightmares. When Sulley accidentally brings a little girl into Monstropolis, he and Mike awkwardly deal with their first extended human babysitting gig, as they try to keep the girl secret from their co-workers, and attempt to return her safely home. Though the monsters of this world seem to think that human children are toxic and possibly carry diseases, Sulley and Mike gradually discover through getting to know the girl (whom they affectionately name ‘Boo’) that humans are pretty harmless, and in fact often very sweet and pleasant creatures – and Boo discovers the same about monsters, themselves.  
The vocal performances are (unsurprisingly) all strong and engaging, and Sulley and Mike are given a sufficiently threatening nemesis in Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), a chameleon who can change colors and fade into his surroundings (paralleling, of course, the abilities of a real-world two-faced individual in a corporate setting). Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger also shows up as the Abominable Snowman, a monster exiled from Monstropolis (and living in the Himalayas, which neatly explains the human world’s sightings of the yeti). Grizzled actor James Coburn plays the CEO of Monsters, Inc., in one of his final performances. If there is one significant criticism that can be made of the film, it’s that there is a lack of strong female roles, and given that the plot takes place largely in contemporary ‘corporate’ environment, the subtext is all the more noticeable. Still, the film is an amazing technical feat: it typically took animators eleven to twelve hours to render a single frame of Sulley, because his fur contained 2.3 million individually animated hair strands. Randy Newman again contributes perfectly-toned and emotionally-moving music and songs (following on from his very successful collaboration with Pixar on the Toy Story series), and his ‘If I Didn’t Have You’ won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (Newman had previously been nominated for an Oscar fifteen times). Inside references to Disney, Pixar, and other films abound: In one scene, Mike and his co-worker Celia eat at a restaurant called Harryhausen’s, a reference to the pioneering stop-motion animator. Retro-style Disneyland posters can be seen in the “Monstropolis” travel store in the film, and there are allusions to past and forthcoming Pixar films including Toy Story and Finding Nemo (2003).  Also notable, a couple of early teasers for Monsters, Inc. featured exclusive animated material that was not used in the feature film. In April 2010, a Monsters, Inc. sequel was officially announced (after having been rumored for many years), and is set for release in 2012.

Author of this review: Michael S. Duffy