By 2001, animation house Pixar had already churned out two bona fide classics (Toy Story’s 1&2) and a high grossing second movie that seems forever destined to be labelled an also-ran (the vastly underrated A Bug’s Life), so anticipation was high to see what those keyboard tapping, heart string twanging, digital magicians would come up with next.
What they gave us was an overwhelming lesson in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and unleashed a movie that fused the missmatched buddy comedy of Woody and Buzz Lightyear with the advanced world building of their sophomore, insect epic to give us Monsters Inc., an odd-couple fantasy movie that managed to capture that high concept, lightning in a bottle shiznit that Pixar has made their stock and trade while exponentially pushing the boundaries of digital fur – according to the DVD extras apparently that was a big deal…
Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan are two hard working scarers who play their trade at Monsters Inc., a power company that fuels the energy needs of Monstropolis with the screams of terrified children the employees are hired to scare the crap out of. However, there’s a problem; due to kids these days becoming more jaded, energy reserves are running low and the city regular has been experiencing rolling blackouts that are becoming quite the concern. This doesn’t worry Mike and Sulley though, as thanks to Mike’s prowess as an assistant and Sulley’s innate scaring talent, the pair are on the verge of breaking Monsters Inc. all time scare record much to the chagrin of shifty work colleague Randal Boggs.
However, their life on easy street is about to change when through a freak occurrence, a human child escapes into the Monster world. While this doesn’t sound like much of a problem – just bung the kid back into her bedroom and call Child’s Services: case closed – matters are greatly complicated by the fact that human children are apparently highly toxic to monster-kind and Sulley and Mike are stuck babysitting this potential, two year old killing machine before the Child Detection Agency swoops in and closes the company down for good.
While Mike desperately rushes around trying to come up with a plan while dodging humorless administrator Roz, angry girlfriend Celia and an incredibly suspicious Randall, Sulley disguises the child as a monster with some household items and tries to keep her docile; but with this being a kids film, he soon starts to bond with tyke whom he dubs “Boo”.
As all the madcap skullduggery puts a sizeble strain on Mike and Sulley’s friendship, both find that Boo’s appearance may actually not have been an accident after all and a darker things may be occuring behind the screams.
Propelled straight off the bat by Randy Newman’s impossibly jaunty theme, Monster’s Inc. makes it pretty clear from the get go that it has absolutely no interest in reinventing the wheel and that the only ground breaking will strictly be of the polygon persuasion. As a result – especially compared to later, more daring works like Inside Out, Soul and Up – you could accuse director Pete Docter of letting Pixar rest on their impressive laurels, however, even though it’s not as off-beat or subversive as say, Shrek (released the same year which scored the first Oscar for animated movie), it’s rock solid story, cracking jokes and emotional heft means that it’s certainly aged better.
The double act of John Goodman’s hefty vocals mixed with Billy Crystal’s quick fire jabbering mean that we instantly feel like we’ve known Sulley and Mike for years despite this being their first movie and after mere seconds of bathing in the warming glow of their banter, you understand every aspect of their relationship to it’s very core.
It’s easy to take that kind of instinctual storytelling for granted and initially, sometimes you worry that Pixar’s aimed their film too young after the stunning emotional complexity of Toy Story (a lot of the early scenes end on random slapstick to get easy laughs), but when it really gets going it gets right into the root of friendship the way only Pixar can.
Still, when your bottom lip isn’t quivering like one of thode springy door stops because of the bond between the “aaawww” triggering little Boo (actually voiced by a toddler) and Sulley, you’ll most likely be biting on it as the movie unleashes and untold amount of movie references (slow motion walk from The Right Stuff is lampooned, a swanky restaurant is named Harryhausen’s), running gags (hapless colleague George Sanderson falling victim repeatedly to the dreaded 2319 – the CDA’s brutal containment protocol) and, during one magnificent moment, pays a virtual shot for shot homage to a section of the 1952 Looney Tunes cartoon “Feed The Kitty”.
While the peerless world building includes everything from the minutiae (Stalk/Don’t Stalk signs) to the huge (the final chase on the rollercoaster-esquse door deployment system), what Monster’s Inc. actually does best with its selection of blue collar brutes and commuting creatures is making this fantastical world relatably down to earth, with most of the film takes place in offices, corridors and apartments. Above everything else, this is a job to these guys – their nine to five with fangs, if you will – and no matter how many deceptively surreal jokes the movie throws at you (snake-haired Celia pondering if she should get a trim much to the seperent’s horror) and despite the fact that your leads are essentially a green, cycloptic beachball and a blue and purple throw rug, the best parts of the film are the more down to earth stuff.
Deceptively smart, relentlessly funny (Crystal in particular goes for broke with an unending stream of quips) and likely to leave you with.a warm feeling that could defrost a turkey, Monsters Inc. was vintage Pixar even when it was brand new.