MONSTERS, INC.MOVIE REVIEW
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Head Production Designer
JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
Special Effects Make-Up
A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
"We scare because we care"
Your mileage may vary, but for me, the best computer animated movie to come out of 2001 - and the best to ever come out of Disney - is MONSTERS, INC. I don't say this simply because this is a horror site. I truly enjoyed Toy Story and Toy Story 2. They were from Disney and Pixar as well and were inventive and funny. But those movies were steps leading up to MONSTERS, INC., which as of this writing, is Pixar's crown jewel in story and computer animation.
On the story side you have a great tale of one eyed and excitable Michael 'Mike' Wazowski (Voice of Billy Crystal) and the big and easy going James P. "Sully" Sullivan (Voice of John Goodman: C.H.U.D., BRINGING OUT THE DEAD), two monsters who live in Monstropolis (do we even have a Humanopolis? Cities named after the species that live in them seem to reside only in the realm of comics /cartoons).
Sully is the number one scare monster at Monsters, Inc. Using special doors that, when activated, are passages to our world, Sully and monsters like him pass through closet doors, sneak up on unsuspecting children in their beds, and scare them into screaming. They do this because children's screams are the number one source of energy in the realm of monsters. It's a different kind of physics and it's a fantasy cartoon so don't bother trying to figure it out.
It's a two monster job and that's where Mike comes in. Mike, as Sully's assistant, has to activate and deactivate the doors as they come down the rails. Every monster is assigned children that they are most likely to scare. They have to work in twos because scaring is a very dangerous job. Monsters think children are extremely toxic, and if one touches you, you could die. So Mike not only has to quickly deactivate the door when Sully comes back (before an adult opens it to show the child that "There are no monsters! It's just a closet."), but he is also Sully's coach and cheerleader, getting Sully "ready for the game" as it were.
The biggest problem facing Monster planet is the energy shortage. Children aren't scared as easily these days.
So Mike and Sully, who are best friends off the job, are the best workers on the job. This brings hero worship from many but seething jealousy from a snaky character named Randall Boggs (Voice of Steve Buscemi: FINAL FANTASY). Randall is the number 2 scarer and he never becomes employee of the month even though he is always just-so-close. He's so close to the adoration he can taste it and would love nothing more than to see Sullivan slip.
For Mike, his life is the hydra receptionist Celia May (Jennifer Tilly: BRIDE OF CHUCKY) who has snakes for hair. Sully's life is his work until, one day, the most terrifying thing imaginable to a monster, happens: a human child steps through the doorway, entering Monstropolis. To see the scary giant monsters running away from a small child, who wants to play, is a hoot, but MONSTERS, INC. is no one joke film. Every aspect of how monsters live is revealed in funny and above all, inventive ways. There are surprises in every minute and you would want to see it at least twice to catch the parts you missed the first time.
On the Technical side is the animation. In the last few years, the arduous mathematical task of assigning 3D animation to fur and hair has been explored, tentatively at first, as each and every strand must be accounted for in the computers that crunch all the numbers that make up each hair, its color, its change in light as it moves, shadow and more. Animating one hair is a breeze. Animating millions of hairs blowing in the breeze is another. Sully's fur isn't stiff, it's soft and billowy. So many dynamics come into play including how the hairs all move, collide, and bounce off of each other.
FINAL FANTASY had hair animation up to a point, but nowhere near as technical an achievement as the fully furry Sully in MONSTERS, INC. Sully is covered in fur and even more, his fur has patches of other colors running through it. Each strand must have a life of its own when it moves in the breeze or stands on end, and at the same time each strand must react to the other strands around it.
This is one of many technical aspects of MONSTERS, INC. that were created and explored for this film, and the technical side, and how issues were overcome, is every bit as inventive as the story.
The great story was supplied by many folks. With so many jokes and inventive visual cues, this is probably one of those rare times where a table full of brainstorming creators would be a good thing. Chief among the writers are Jill Culton, Pete Docter, Ralph Eggleston, Dan Gerson, and Jeff Pidgeon. Direction comes from Pete Doctor, and co-directors David Silverman (directed and produced episodes of The Simpsons) and Lee Unkrich.
MONSTERS, INC. is laugh out loud funny and has moments that are deeply touching as well. For those of you with young children, MONSTERS, INC. makes the perfect October / Halloween movie and gets all 5 Shriek Girls from me.