'Monsters Inc. 3-D'
By Mark Sells
December 21, 2012
Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film and entertainment journalist for The Reel Deal. In addition to RELEVANT magazine, he has contributed to The Oregon Herald, MovieMaker Magazine, Moving Pictures, 303, Denver Life and Film International and can be heard weekly on 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles), providing the latest in movie news and reviews. Check out The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
“We scare because we care.”
So goes the motto of Monsters, Inc., a factory powered by the screams of children and run by the monsters who lurk in their closets and under their beds. Colorfully rendered and imagined, the story centers on two affable monster buddies—the brave blue behemoth Sulley (John Goodman) and his jittery one-eyed sidekick Mike (Billy Crystal). Together, they represent the top scream team at Monsters, Inc., envied by all. So, when a human toddler accidentally crosses over to their monster world, it’s up to this dynamic duo to not only prevent the child from falling into evil hands but to help get her safely home.
Originally released in 2001, this version of Monsters, Inc., comes with a 3-D makeover that neither improves nor detracts. Serving primarily as a marketing ploy to help set up Monsters University, the highly anticipated prequel slated for next summer, this re-release exemplifies Pixar’s winning formula: great characters, wholesome humor and a timeless story.
In the film, Monstropolis is on the verge of a blackout. Populated by monsters of every shape and color, this parallel world relies solely on energy from Monsters, Inc., a factory that generates power when each of its employees enters a child’s bedroom, scares them and collects their screams. However, those screams are more and more difficult to come by—and it’s up to the company’s top screamer, a big, hairy blue monster named James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and his best pal, a green eyeball named Mike Wazowski, to save the day.
But finding a solution to generate more screams is no easy task. For starters, the two pals' efforts are complicated by the constant meddling of Sulley’s chief competitor, Randall Boggs, whose chameleon-like appearance and win-at-any-cost agenda becomes quite a distraction. And then there’s the issue that arises when a human child named Boo accidentally enters the monster world through a closet door and sends the entire city into a state of pandemonium.
With the CDA (Children Detection Agency) in hot pursuit, Boo stumbles upon Sulley and Mike. Terrified at first, the monster buddies quickly discover their human encounter is neither toxic nor a threat. And in an attempt to take her back home, back through Monsters, Inc., and her door to the human world, they unravel a secret plot that takes them on an adventure of scary proportions.
At the time of its release, Monsters, Inc., represented the fourth Pixar offering, following on the coattails of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug’s Life. And like its predecessors, the film demonstrated a remarkable use of computer animation techniques to create a whole new world, full of eye-popping color and depth, energy and movement. Most noticeably, it found a unique way to humanize make-believe monsters and give them a relatable voice in much the same way it humanized inanimate toys and inarticulate bugs. In this particular instance, the monsters, Sulley and Mike, take on the role of parents, caring for and protecting Boo from harm. And it’s that relationship, the bond between monster and child, animation and audience, that really warms the heart.
The notion that monsters hiding in a child’s bedroom are actually workers on assignment is pure genius. Jumping in and out of closet doors affixed to an assembly line, monsters of all shapes and sizes turn fear into energy, powering their city. The factory presents the perfect setting for all kinds of drama, visual stimulation, sight gags and irony, like the discovery of a sock ("There's nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child!"). And still, somewhere between the fast-moving doors and colorful scenery are themes centered on corporate greed and alternative energy—many of which are just as valid today, if not more so, than back in 2001.
In addition to the sensational talents of John Goodman and Billy Crystal in the leading roles, the vocal pool runs deep, from Jennifer Tilly’s sexy Celia to Bob Peterson’s crotchety office manager, Roz, to the overbearing boss, Waternoose, voiced by James Coburn. And Mary Gibbs, who provides the sound for Boo, is perhaps most impressive of all, expressively gurgling and giggling to convey a child’s innermost thoughts and feelings.
The animation is all top-notch, of course, but the 3-D element doesn’t add much pizzazz. Unlike the recent string of Pixar favorites converted to 3-D, like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., doesn’t have a child’s point of view or an immense ocean to play with and therefore cannot immerse viewers the way the others have. It’s no fault of the film, which was not intended for a 3-D audience when it was created (although you can bet Monsters University will be prepped). Here, the colors are dimmed and the action sequences dizzying. But the action finale, amidst a roller coaster of doors, is both exhilarating and depth defying, lending itself quite well to 3-D.
An animated classic, Monsters, Inc., has an innovative story, colorful characters, kid-friendly humor and real-world themes—all of which distinguish Pixar from the rest of the pack. They've just got that uncanny ability to create and transport viewers to new worlds through new ideas, masterful storytelling and cutting-edge technology. It’s what makes Monsters, Inc., so special, so cute and so fun. No embellishments needed.