Monsters, Inc., 2001, 4 ¼ stars

A scintillating, scary spectacular

From The Orlando Weekly, 2001

Pixar Animation has a knack for bringing to life unexplored regions of children’s imaginations. Just as they did with the insect world and the life of toys, John Lasseter’s team, with Monsters, Inc., has created a fascinating and funny land centered on a child’s fascination with the make-believe monsters lurking in the bedroom closet.

The new computer-animated extravaganza relies on the premise that on the other side of that closet door are monsters whose only reason for scaring us is to gather our screams, which are their energy source. In fact, screams are so important to the monsters’ existence that a special company, Monsters, Inc., employs an elite force of Kid Scarers.

The top scarer is James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), a lumbering furry blue monster with purple spots. A ruthless competitor by day, racking up all the scare points he can, “Sulley” is actually a loveable and sentimental fellow. Working alongside his friend is scare assistant Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). This green, one-eyed, wise-cracking sidekick is equally endearing, and together the two form the monster  version of Woody and Buzz.

Rounding out the cast are company CEO Henry Waternoose (James Coburn), a crab-like beast fond of Sulley because of all the scares he generates, and Randall (Steve Buscemi), a shifty chameleon who is Sulley’s chief competitor.

Executive producer Lasseter has handed over the directing and writing reigns this time to Pixar veteran Pete Docter, who is clearly up to the task. The film’s premise is intriguing and the story well-developed. Especially ingenious is the fact that monsters are actually afraid of children and venture into their world simply because it’s their job.

The monsters are seen as heroes on par with astronauts because they brave the frightening world beyond the closet door and risk toxic contamination if contact is made with so much as a child’s sock. So when a little girl is accidentally transported into the monster’s world, it is the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown and could mean the end of Sulley’s and Mike’s career.

Crystal is at his comedic best, and though not as instantly endearing as Tom Hank’s Woody, his pairing with Goodman nevertheless produces one of the year’s best buddy films. While other voices are memorable, Steve Buscemi, as Sulley’s nemesis, is rather bland. His forgettable work contributes to a sense that once the plot details have been established, the film drifts and becomes more convoluted than its Pixar predecessors.

Though not as groundbreaking or well conceived as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., dazzles with its humor and spectacular visuals. It is worlds apart from Shrek and Atlantis and therefore the favorite to garner the new Oscar for animated feature.