Directed by Pete Doctor. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson. DVD released by Walt Disney Home Video.
I’ve bought all of the Pixar films as they’ve been released on DVD, but Monsters, Inc. is one that I might not have bought if not for brand loyalty. I’ve always liked it OK, but for many years I considered it the weakest of the Pixars. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a fan of voice casting that depends on a familiar personality, and Billy Crystal’s work here is a good example of what I mean. And the movie always felt formulaic to me, and lacking in the sheer surprise that the Toy Story films possessed.
That’s the thing about time, though, is that it has a funny way of making you see things differently after enough time passes. When I watched Monsters, Inc. again last week, I enjoyed it more than any other time I had watched it in the past; it seemed to be just a little bit funnier and have a little bit more heart than it did in the past.
The core of the movie is the relationship between two monsters named Sully (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike (Crystal), who are best friends and work together at the Monstropolis power plant. The city’s power is generated by the screams of human children when the monsters sneak into their rooms via their closets, and Sully is the plant’s top scarer. Their friendship is tested when a little girl (named ‘Boo’ by Sully, and voiced by Mary Gibbs, the young daughter of one of the animators) sneaks into Monstropolis and is found by Sully, setting off a city-wide panic due to the belief by monsterkind that human children are toxic and deadly.
In terms of sheer oddness, this was the weirdest premise for a Pixar movie (or probably any animated movie) until Ratatouille came along, and the filmmakers have a lot of fun with the details of everyday life in Monstropolis and the panic generated by even the slightest trace of human contamination. As fantasy worlds go, I wouldn’t say that it’s a fully developed place (are monsters’ forms random, or do they look like their parents? are there other monster cities?), but it’s good for a lot of laughs, and really brings out the best in the Pixar animators.
I still think that Crystal’s performance is distracting at times, but I have to concede that he and Goodman make a fine team. Goodman’s straight-arrow Sully and Crystal’s hyper-active Mike are a standard buddy-movie pair, but the actors are give the relationship warmth and depth, and they really feel like old friends instead of two characters that are arbitrarily put together by the requirements of the script. Especially good is the scene where they’re “banished” and their friendship breaks down – it’s not Buzz and Woody good, but it’s very good. I also get a kick out of the way the filmmakers are able to create, with Boo, a brilliant comedic character with some baby talk and a few funny stares.
I guess this is the reason I wanted to go back and watch these films – it’s been a few years, and perceptions can change. My view of A Bug’s Life changed for the worse, but now this film evens that out. I still see some of the flaws that I saw before (the big action climax still doesn’t quite work for me), and I don’t think it’s top-flight Pixar, but it’s a better movie than I’ve been giving it credit for over the last six years.