Friday, December 30, 2016

Monsters, Inc. 2001

To be honest I wasn't sure what I expected Pixar to do after Toy Story 2. I would have liked a sequel to A Bug's Life, but as we're now nearly 20 years on and they still haven't done A Bug's Life 2, I was mistaken there. I did not expect Monsters, Inc.

The storyline is as random as people were already coming to expect from Pixar. The monsters that hide out under children beds and in their closets are real, but they actually inhabit their own dimension. People, especially young ones, have often wondered why do monsters lurk in their closets and jump out to frighten them when all the lights are off? What do the monsters get out of it? Well, according to Monsters, Inc. the screams of small children are what fuel their universe. It's their electricity. It's a renewable and relatively cheap power source.

For that reason the monsters need expert scarers, and the best team is comprised of James P. 'Sulley' Sullivan and his friend Mike Wazowski. Sulley is the real star of the show, Mike is his sidekick. Sulley does the scaring, Mike just runs the equipment and generally forgets to file the paperwork. Their greatest rival for the title of best monster is Randall; a creepy, reptilian monster with chameleon like abilities.

Given that the bane of animators had been drawing believable hair, Sulley was an odd choice of main character, because he's largely composed of blue fur with large purple dots, but Pixar pulled it off. Sulley's fur looks real. Mike made more sense, he's basically a large eyeball with arms and legs. He was also easy to draw, probably easy and cheap to make and quite marketable. I can remember at the time the film was released most of the marketing centred around Mike.

The one thing that scares...terrifies the monsters, a child coming through the door into their world and that's what happens when Sulley goes through a random door, cleverly planted by Randall, who is in turn working for the crablike eight eyed owner of Monsters, Inc. Henry J. Waternoose. He accidentally brings a cute child that he names Boo, through to their world.

What follows is attempts to keep Boo a secret from everyone except Mike and Sulley, deliver her back home and keep her safe from the likes of Randall and Waternoose. Much hilarity and action ensues as they do this.

Monsters, Inc. was actually funnier and better than I remembered, but two fairly large things don't work for me. One is Boo, she's cute, but I don't think Pixar could do believable humans and so Boo looked more like a cartoon than a real human girl. The other was Mike. I know I'm in the minority, but I found Mike more annoying than amusing. Sulley really could have done everything he did better without his one eyed sidekick. They also discover that children's laughter is even more powerful than their screams, it's kind of like replacing petrol with hydrogen.

There was a nice little touch in Boo's bedroom at the end where she has a Jessie doll and a plush little clownfish, which gave audiences a small hint as to where Pixar were going with their next film.


Billy Crystal as Mike was their big signing. I liked Billy Crystal in Soap, but while he went onto great fame in films, and especially as the host of the Academy Awards I never really liked his style of comedy. Like Joan Cusack in Toy Story 2, he made the character tiresome for me.

Sulley had to be written for John Goodman. I think Goodman is a highly underrated actor and it's no surprise that he's nearly always in demand. Part of the problem was that at the time he was better known for his work as Roseanne's much put upon husband in that TV show, and his name alone couldn't carry a film.

As they tended to do, Pixar cast a veteran actor by using legendary screen tough guy James Coburn as Waternoose.

The wonderful Steve Buscemi, largely known for quirky roles, was perfect for the slimy Randall.

Jennifer Tilly played Mike's girlfriend Celia, a sort of gorgon, and she does tend to light up the story every time she's in it.

John Ratzenberger cemented his role as being in every Pixar film, by doing a turn as the exiled Abominable Snowman. It reminded me of Stan Freiberg's interview with the Abominable Snowman and I do wonder if they based the part on that radio sketch.

Even though I liked Monsters, Inc. more than I remembered it was still underwhelming for a Pixar film.

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