THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Monsters, Inc. is the latest in a series of revolutionary computer-animated features that began with 1995's Toy Story. This year alone has given us three amazing films in the genre: Shrek, Final Fantasy, and now this one. Computer animation gives movies not only a new look, but a new atmosphere as well. The 3-dimensional characters have realistic textures, as do the backgrounds and objects that share space on the screen. It's a combination of the ultra-real and the totally unreal. As breathtaking as the images are, these films really live and die by their stories, just like any other motion picture. This co-production of Disney and Pixar has a typically strong story that appeals to both adults and children.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman do the voices of Mike and Sully in Monsters, Inc.
Billy Crystal does the voice of Mike Wazowski, a green ball with one big eye. John Goodman voices Sully, a hairy blue creature. They are monsters who live in a parallel dimension and work for a company called Monsters, Inc. In the monster world, power is generated from the screams of children. Because Mike and Sully work for the company that is the largest supplier of energy, their job is to extract those screams. The company itself is a masterpiece of creativity. Doors are brought in to a large hangar via conveyer belts (much like clothes in a dry cleaning shop). The monsters open the doors and are transported into the bedroom closets of children around the world. Once there, all they have to do is illicit a scream and trap it in a special container.

Trouble begins when one of the monsters accidentally breaks a major rule and leaves a door open. This breach allows a little girl (nicknamed Boo) to cross over into the other world. In one of the film's more clever bits, it is revealed that monsters are actually afraid of children. Sully finds the little girl and, with Mike's help, must get her back home before anyone in the company discovers her. Doing this is more complicated than it sounds, especially since another monster named Randall (voiced to perfection by Steve Buscemi) is concocting a plan to replace Sully as the top scream collector.

Monsters, Inc. has a lot of fun dreaming up its different characters. The computer-animation allows for a wide assortment of bizarre creatures that represent virtually every possible type of bogeyman a child could imagine. Pixar specializes in finding the right material for their animation style. The toys of Toy Story and the insects of A Bug's Life were flawless matches for the technique. With monsters, they have taken things a step further, allowing for greater creativity in inventing both an entire world and its inhabitants. This is the kind of movie that's worth the ticket price just for the visuals.

But the film is also more than just a piece of eye candy. The screenplay is filled with witty lines that are brilliantly delivered by an all-star cast that also includes Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, and James Coburn. It is Billy Crystal, though, who walks away with the show. In Mike Wazowski, he has found a role that suits his comedic strengths. Mike is smart but neurotic, panicky yet in-charge. The animators have brilliantly matched up the character design with Crystal's voice, and it's a match made in heaven. If Billy Crystal were a monster, you can bet he'd be the kind who only had one big eye.

I wish the movie had exploited the whole monsters-in-closets angle a little more; kids everywhere have this fear, so there are probably a lot of untapped ideas it could have had fun with. That's a minor complaint, though, for a movie that offers so much joy. The grand finale is a frantic chase through the company's conveyer belt system. Mike and Sully scramble through millions of doors looking for the one that will put Boo back in her own bed. It is an extended set piece that ranks as one of the most imaginative, wondrous movie scenes I have ever watched.

Monsters, Inc. breaks ground as a computer-animated feature while still remaining true to the concepts of characterization and story. It deserves to take its place as a indicator of where this exciting new artform is heading.

( 1/2 out of four)

Monsters, Inc is rated G . The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.
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