Monsters, Inc. is the latest CG animated movie from Disney and Pixar,
the folks who brought you Toy Story and A Bug's Life. And, big
surprise, Disney's latest cash cow project is the type of clever family fare
that keeps the parents entertained and makes the kids want to buy merchandise.
But in a year that's seen more innovative films like Shrek and Final
Fantasy, Monsters Inc. feels sooo 1995.
You've always suspected that there was a monster in your closet when you were
a kid. Well, it turns out that you were right. And that many-eyed, tentacled,
furry beastie was actually just doing his job. Many of the inhabitants of Monstropolis
work for Monsters, Inc. They creep out from your closet, and scare you
to provide power for their city? That's right, Monstropolis runs on the energy
harnessed from the screams of frightened children. Monsters, Inc.'s top scarer
is Sulley (voiced by John Goodman), helped by his right-hand-monster, one-eyed
Timon-sound-a-like Mike Wazowski (evidently they couldn't get Nathan Lane for
the role, so they hired Billy Crystal to do his best Nathan Lane impersonation).
But when a child piggybacks on Sulley through a closet door portal, and crosses
over from the human world into Monstropolis, all heck breaks loose.
Pixar's full-length films have explored fertile areas of the imaginations of
children (and ex-children). What kid hasn't imagined that his/her toys had a
secret life of their own, or wondered what it would be like to be as tiny as
an insect? The "monsters in my closet" angle mines a similar vein
of our collective psyche.
Yep, Pixar is up to its old tricks again. And that's not a bad thing. Like
Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2, Monsters,
Inc. boasts eye-popping, technically impressive computer animation. Some
scenes are so busy with characters and so detail-rich that you have to choose
what to pay attention to. The climax of Monsters Inc. (like the water-soaked
ending of A Bug's Life), is truly astonishing. And Sulley's purple and
blue fur is so realistically animated that it almost distracts you from what's
going on in the film. Like the previous films, Monsters, Inc. is goofy enough
for the kids and smart enough for the adults. And, like the previous films,
Monsters, Inc. boasts great character design given voice by some pretty impressive
talent: Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Bonnie Hunt (also in A Bug's Life),
John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin from Cheers; he's been in all four Disney/Pixar
movies), and Frank Oz.
It's all very familiar and safe. And, in this case, familiarity breeds
familiarity. Monsters Inc. is about on the level of A Bug's
Life. A good time in the theater, but I'm not sure that it's characters
will endure as well as those in Toy Story. Not saying that Pixar's lost
its touch. Monsters Inc. is a good film, and Toy Story 2 may have
arguably improved upon the original. But what Pixar hasn't done much since 1995
Seen individually, all four of Pixar's Disney films are pretty impressive.
But, put them side by side, and you can tell that, after they made Toy Story,
they didn't break the mold. They've been putting that mold to very lucrative
use. Even in spite of all the amazing talent at Pixar, what was once ground-breaking
could very quickly turn into assembly-line film-making, just as Disney's fairy
tale cartoon renaissance (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) eventually
gave way to beat-the-formula-to-death duds like Pocahontas and The
Hunchback of Notre Dame. And now Disney isn't the only fish in the feature-length
computer animation pond (Shrek and Final Fantasy; and even Nickelodeon
is getting into the act this Christmas with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius).
Monsters, Inc. will probably still make a butt-load of money, and it
deserves most of that money. But, in a post-Shrek world, it's even more
obvious that the Mighty Mouse has been running in place for the last six years.
PS: Here's one of the reasons why you still have to love Disney. The Mouse
has been single-handedly keeping alive that quaint practice of running shorts
before the main feature, first with a couple of great Roger Rabbit cartoons,
and now with Pixar's wickedly funny pre-movie shorts.