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Walt Disney Pictures
Official Site
Director: Peter Docter
Producers: Darla K. Anderson, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
Written by: Dan Gerson and Andrew Stanton
Cast: voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Rating: out of 5

Currently, it seems that most animated films, although constantly upping the ante in animation quality, are becoming more and more weighted down with cheap cynicism and a bottomless pit of pop culture references. SHREK may get laughs for its jokes involving sexual politics and its send-up of Michael Eisner’s Disney-topia, but it lacks a core of humanity that earlier, less ironic cartoons like CINDERELLA possess.

MONSTERS, INC. seems to understand this. It finds that core of humanity in its positing of simple relationships within the mechanical beast that is industry. And, ironically, this humanity is displayed in figments of our imaginations (although my little brother insists they are very real indeed, and under his bed too): the characters in MONSTERS, INC. are, fittingly, the monsters that haunt little kids’ closets. It turns out that scaring kids is big business in Monster-land. The screaming of children is a vital resource for these monsters, harnessed in canisters and used to generate energy and keep society flowing. Unfortunately, children today are more cynical (a subtle remark on the persistent cynicism in today’s kids’ movies? hmmm…) and scare much less easily, which has resulted in a shortage of scream-power all over the monsters’ city. It doesn’t help, either, that the monsters, in a clever turn of the screw that leads to a lot of funny moments, are themselves terrified of children (it is common monster knowledge that children are toxic to the touch).

Enter James P. Sullivan, AKA “Sully” (genially voiced by Goodman), the best scaring machine around. Wooly all over with horns and a crooked smile, Sully looks like a cross between Mike Myers’s Shrek and a throw rug. He’s large, furry, and, despite his cuddly look, very good at his job. Assisted by his best friend and co-worker, Mike Wazowski (a green one-eyed ball on legs brought to life by a manic Crystal), Sully currently holds the record for most successful scares in the factory. But Randall Boggs, voiced by Buscemi and resembling a salamander with a mohawk, is number two, with aspirations to become number one, even if it means breaking the rules to get there.

His breaking the rules, in fact, indirectly causes Sully to let a child into their world when he leaves a door open in the factory that provides access to the bedroom of the child. All hell breaks loose as the monster social order is shaken by this breach of the two worlds, and the story finds itself following Sully and Mike’s attempts to return the child back to her world before the powers-that-be can reach her.

From this point on, MONSTERS, INC.’s two purposes are laid bare: to serve as an indictment of unethical business practice, and to be just plain fun. It juggles the two beautifully, dropping the ball only in its villains’ clichéd plans of total domination. Buscemi, surprisingly, doesn’t give Randall much life beyond a couple moments of posturing swagger in reference to his scaring abilities. He’s a one-note villain in an otherwise dynamic setting that discovers liberation in turning roles inside out.

In fact, in an interesting example of the role-reversals in MONSTERS, INC., the little girl, the sole human in the entire film, is the babbling, cartoonish comic relief (relatively speaking, of course; this is, after all, a cartoon, and a comedy). As Sully warms up to her and becomes her caretaker, he names her “Boo,” and a certain boy-and-his-dog theme becomes apparent. But this is also where MONSTERS, INC. proves that it has more at its heart than satire and brimstone. There’s warmth, and, yes, a moral, although it’s not preachy. It’s the old standard that differences don’t have to prevent connection, and within the structure of MONSTERS, INC., it resonates with new meaning.

—Cole Sowell

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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