Monsters, Inc. (2001)

“That’s it, I’m out of ideas. We’re closed. Hot air balloon? Too expensive. Giant slingshot? Too conspicuous. Enormous wooden horse? Too Greek.”

Ever wonder what the monsters that hide under a bed or in a closet do once the “so called” scare is over, and the kid wakes up in a cold sweat? According to the geniuses at Pixar who brought to life three other stories about unusual characters that don’t get their side of the story told, monsters are just like humans. They work a pseudo nine to five with lunch breaks, performance metrics and a governing body that tracks any wrongdoings or contact with a human if a scare goes wrong. 

“We have a 2319” as one monster shouts at the top of their lungs when a lone human sock is discovered to cross the threshold and attach itself to a monster returning from the magical door separating humans from monsters. From there, the article of clothing is incinerated, and the monster is washed and shaved and left in a cone of shame. Monsters also go out, eat sushi on dates, they act, drive cars, and fall in love. Going back to the scare, once the job is done, the scare is harvested from the subject (the child) by the scarer in a vial that brings power to the inhabited city Monstropolis.

Once a shift starts, scarers are this world’s astronauts, boldly going where no monster has gone before, to do a job and earn a living. Randy Newman’s score triumphantly booms out as a slow-mo sequence of the scarer’s making their way to their individual stations. They aren’t so scary now when you put it that way. The real question is, does Monsters, Incorporated have benefits, a handsome PTO package and other incentives? Are they an LLC? Probably, but this isn’t a deep dive into their corporate structure, or is it? 

For the fourth time in a row, Pixar has created a world we aren’t used to seeing but making it look and feel like it exists in everyday life. Checking under the bed or investigating every faint sound or distant creak just became more nerve racking. First it was toys that came to life when nobody was watching, next it was bugs, specifically ants who found courage to stand up for themselves, then it was a return to the toys who see everything and now monsters. What can’t the minds at Pixar do or come up with creativity? Look close enough at a particular moment and you’ll see references or Easter eggs to the previous films. Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), an eight-legged lizard like chameleon takes the color scheme of Andy’s bedroom wallpaper, the same ball from Toy Story makes an appearance in Boo’s (voiced by Mary Gibbs) room. Only to name a couple.  

Screenwriter’s Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson take every kid’s worse nightmare and flip it on its head, making these creatures relatable and funny.

In an apartment, an alarm goes off to start the day, a short, one-eyed green monster named Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) wakes up his partner and best friend James Sullivan, professionally known as Sully (voiced by John Goodman) and the two start the day with a workout before heading to Monsters, inc for their shifts. Mike is the door operator and Sully is the scarer on the verge of harvesting the most scares in company history – all is good until a door is discovered to be left behind and with it the 2-year-old Boo that makes her way into the world of monsters.

In this world, monsters are just as scared of humans as we are of them. Only the monsters are a bit extreme with their prejudices. Children are not toxic, nor do they have the ability to destroy the world. Children as it turns out are harmless and Sully recognizes this, acting as the bridge to destroy any discrimination between the two beings. Yet again, an animated movie geared toward a younger audience features mature themes that will attract and keep an older viewers attention. We come for the breathtaking technology and the improvements from film to film and stay for the messages, themes, and characters. At this point, Pixar doesn’t have much to prove in their pursuit in changing how animation films are made. 

What started 6 years prior has indeed improved – character models look sharp and distinct from one another; textures pop off the screen and the world surrounding the monsters is just as rich and impressive with its scale and variations of characters. To say the accomplishment is impressive is an understatement.   Pixar has essentially changed how animated films are made – not only serving as a template for the technology but for the stories themselves. Suddenly, feeling sympathy for a big, scary monster is not so difficult to understand and vise versa. Suddenly, you can feel bad the Abominable Snowman (voiced by John Ratzenberger) – maybe he’s not so bad after all.

Pixar is developing a pattern of getting the right voice cast for each of their films. Led by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, the ensemble is but one of the familiar highlights that Pixar has nailed over and over, among the visuals and writing. With 4 attempts, Pixar has gone 4 for 4, even with new director Pete Doctor at the helm. Though it’s his first time directing, Doctor has worked on two of the previous films in a story capacity. 

What stands out the most however comes from the characters. Relationships between Sully and Boo and Sully and Mike. All it takes is one person of a different species, gender, or age to recognize that the other person isn’t bad at all, and a person’s background, race, what they believe in shouldn’t be handed down generationally in deciding on getting to know them. Sully as a character understands this and breaks the wheel – pioneering a new age for Monsters, Incorporated and setting an example for how we treat one another. Pete Doctor and team understand this concept to not force these ideas on the viewer, instead using comedy mixed with a ton of heart to get the underlying point across to the viewer. 

Written By: Andrew Stanton & Daniel Gerson

Story By: Pete Doctor, Jill Culton, Jeff Pidgeon & Ralph Eggleston

Directed By: Pete Doctor

Music By: Randy Newman

Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Mary Gibbs, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger, Frank Oz

Release Date: November 2, 2001

Running Time: I Hour 32 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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