Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 142: Monsters, Inc.

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #243
Year: 2001
Director: Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman
Starring: Billy Crystal and John Goodman

I've seen every Pixar movie. What young man who was a kid when Toy Story came out hasn't? In my mind, though, I've always kind of had a list of what Pixar movies are great and which are merely good. (With Up and Toy Story 3, there should be a new category for "masterpieces," but never mind that for now.) Until last night when I watched it again for the first time in almost a decade on Netflix, Monsters, Inc. had always found itself in that "good" category with the likes of A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. Now I'm more inclined to think it's great. I can level a few criticisms at it – the voice acting is sometimes a little too over-the-top, some of the gags are a little too brash, the quality of the computer animation is far from what it would become – but they're all entirely nitpicky. To be perfectly honest, I was content and smiling the entire time I was watching. It made me happy, and should I really ask anything else out of an animated kid's movie?

For those unaware, Monsters, Inc. is based on the premise that there is a monster world (cleverly called Monstropolis, and more reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas' Halloween Town than I remembered) that runs on clean energy derived from the screams of children. At the film's eponymous factory, "scarers" use doors to the human world to go into kids' bedrooms at night and frighten them, collecting their screams for the power plant. It's one of those ridiculous premises that you buy into only because it sells it so hard and convinces you that it's feasible, and it totally works. James P. Sullivan, or Sully, voiced by an affable John Goodman is the all-time scare leader at Monsters, Inc., and he and his partner Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) get into some trouble when they inadvertently return to the monster world with a human child. The presence of the little girl – Boo, as Sully dubs her – drives the plot (one which monster intrigue and monster office politics figures heavily into, believe it or not) and is responsible for most of the funny parts and every situation of any consequence.

Monsters, Inc. mostly aligns itself in the "entertainment" camp in the Pixar canon rather than the "art" corner, but it's executed to such perfection that it's more than deserving of a spot in the Top 250. It might be weird nostalgia from playing the mediocre PS1 tie-in video game way too often back in 2001, but I'm starting to come around to the idea that Monsters, Inc. might be one of the five or so best Pixar movies of all time. It certainly stood head and shoulders above all of their other films that existed at the time of its release save for the original Toy Story. In any case, it's available for instant viewing on Netflix right now, and if you haven't seen it in a few years, give it a go. You won't regret it.

The Good: I keep coming back to the animation of Sully's fur. Next to, say, King Kong's fur in Peter Jackson's 2005 film, it looks awful, but it somehow looks right. Again, maybe I just played too much Playstation when I was a kid, but I love the fur and I'm giving it "The Good" props.

The Bad: Billy Crystal unfortunately makes the very Dreamworks gaffe of making his character merely sound exactly like Billy Crystal. It doesn't suck, but I've been more impressed by Pixar voice acting at just about every turn.

The Skinny: Deserves its spot; I could even go higher.

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