I dealt with monsters many nights when I was little. One lived under the
bed, another flitted in the shadows of the chimney and, as for the
closet, well, God only knows how many were hiding in the closet.
When I got a bit older, say, 6 or 7, the monsters became more specific.
I got to stay up late one night and watched an episode of "The Twilight
Zone." In it, a bunch of extremely tall aliens with heads shaped like
light bulbs landed outside the United Nations. They informed the world
that they were here to make everything better for humanity, to end
disease and turn the deserts into gardens. True to their word, they did
wonders for our planet and started taking shiploads of people to their
world for vacations. Meanwhile, a group of government code-breakers
worked on deciphering a book one alien left behind at the United
Nations. The title, written in all capital letters, was revealed as "To
Serve Man," which certainly seemed benign. The climax of the story came
as the head of the code-breakers climbed the ramp of an alien ship for
his visit. One of his staff persons raced up and shouted, "Mr. Chambers,
don't get on that ship! That book, 'To Serve Man,' it. it's a cookbook!"
That did it for me. By my calculations, the aliens were exactly the
right height so they could stand on the back porch, stare through my
bedroom window on the second floor and decide to make me the blue plate
special. I knew, of course, as all kids did, that no monster, be they
from outer space or under the bed, could resist the power of light, and
so I slept with the lights on for the next two years.
"Monsters Inc.," the latest computer-animated feature from the magicians
at Pixar, exposes all the secrets of the creatures that hide under the
bed, behind the chimney and in the closet (alas, the elusive
cannibalistic light bulb head aliens are not addressed). After an early
scene that may prove frightening to the very young or sensitive, we
learn that the monsters are just doing their jobs. And, as my parents so
often told me about snakes and bears and other woodland beings, they are
just as scared of us as we are of them.
In Monstropolis, Sulley (the voice of John Goodman), a huge furry
fellow, is the No. 1 kid Scarer at Monsters Inc., with his roommate and
best friend Mike (Billy Crystal), a hyperactive little guy with one
giant eye, working as his scare assistant. The Monster World is powered
by processed screams from human children, so Sulley's abilities make him
and Mike hot properties in Monstropolis.
The creatures believe human children to be toxic and so direct contact
with them is forbidden. And that's where everything goes awry. One
night, an adorable little human girl named Boo (Mary Gibbs) follows
Sulley back to his realm. Realizing that his career is in jeopardy,
Sulley schemes with Mike to get her back where she belongs. This being a
movie, their attempts not only prove unsuccessful, but actually make
matters worse. Oh, what to do, what to do.
With "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2" under their belts,
the folks at Pixar know that expectations for their new film is high and
they do not disappoint. As with all Pixar works, the bubbly production
can be enjoyed by all ages, but the filmmakers don't forget the target
age for the basic storyline. As a result, this movie plays a little more
basic and a bit less hip than their previous offerings, an approach I
found refreshing. While Dreamworks' "Shrek" was great fun, the cynical
humor and incessant shots taken at their rivals at Disney (please note
that the DVD/VHS release of "Shrek" just happens to be on the same day
as the opening of Disney/Pixar's "Monsters Inc.") got old after a while.
"Monsters Inc." ditches any corporate sniping and too-cool-for-school
posturing and keeps the focus on simple fun. There are numerous
references to other works for attentive grown-ups (including a
restaurant named Harryhausen's - after the legendary stop-motion
animator), but again, the filmmakers are interested more in solid
storytelling than post-modern irony.
On the technical end, Pixar continues to dazzle, showing more depth and
detail than in any other computer-animated work to date. Randy Newman
provides the kind of solid musical support for which he is famed. Across
the board, the acting is top notch, with the warm, soothing tones of the
wonderful John Goodman balancing out Billy Crystal's tendency to be
If you're like me, you'll likely drive yourself crazy trying to match
the actors with the characters, so I'll wrap this up with a cheat sheet.
Little Boo is voiced by newcomer Mary Gibbs, while snaggletooth
character actor and cult fave Steve Buscemi plays Randall, Sulley's main
rival, with Muppet vet Frank Oz voicing Fungus, Randall's scare
assistant. James Coburn is Henry J. Waternoose, Monsters Inc. CEO;
Jennifer Tilly is snake-haired receptionist Celia; John Ratzenberger,
Cliffy from "Cheers," is the lonesome Yeti; Bonnie Hunt is Ms. Flint,
trainer of new recruits; and story supervisor Bob Peterson plays Roz,
the slug lady whose deadpan voice and severe expression gives Mike the
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott