Review: 'Monsters' more for the kids
By Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- "Monsters, Inc.," the latest animated production from the folks at Disney and the Pixar Animation Studio, will be a solid hit and will surely do well on DVD and video. But on the whole, the film lacks the heart, depth, and breath of those studios' previous successes, "Toy Story" (1995), "Toy Story 2" (1999), and "A Bug's Life" (1998) -- which earned a combined total of $1.2 billion dollars worldwide.
While the film's sweet, simplistic storyline will hold up for young audiences, "Monsters, Inc." lacks the all-important edgy layer of adult humor, so vital to Dreamworks' mega-hit "Shrek."
'Monsters'' ultimate message -- that laughter is a stronger force than fear -- is cleverly set up in the beginning with a premise that monsters live in a parallel world and use children's screams of fear as an energy source. In addition, the monsters are secretly more afraid of the children than the children could ever be of them. Kids are apparently toxic to monsters, so they can never make physical contact. If they do, the Child Detection Agency -- disturbingly similar to current real-life biohazard squads -- jumps in to decontaminate them.
In this world live our heroes: Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal), a one-eyed, lime-green, roly-poly monster, and his best buddy, Sully (John Goodman), an 8-foot-tall, blue-and-green goon whose scary exterior hides a heart of gold. They work for Monsters, Inc., a giant factory where monsters take turns going into millions of free-floating closet doors leading into children's bedrooms around the world. The tykes' screams are then filtered into canisters, which store the energy. Unfortunately for the monsters, today's jaded kids don't scare as easily as they used to, so the monsters find themselves going to greater and greater extremes to gather energy.
Sully is the factory's most-valuable player, and his main concern is staying number one. His biggest competition is a creepy, chameleon-like character, Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi). Then disaster strikes. An adorable, pre-verbal little girl follows Sully back to the factory -- and, if discovered, her presence threatens bring down the whole place.
The film now turns into a mad scramble to try and get the girl back home before she's seen. In the process, Sully and Mike grow attached to the little human (who actually gets a little annoying after awhile), and uncover an evil -- but murky -- scheme to forcibly extract screams from children.
Unfortunately, what starts out as a clever plot melts more quickly than cotton candy in a rainstorm. It picks up again at the end, just in time to remind you of how promising the beginning was. For some reason, never explained, the girl is not toxic to the monsters, and suddenly - again, not really explained -- she becomes a vital part of that aforementioned evil but murky scheme.
Storyline aside, the animation is breathtaking. Every individual hair on Sully's fur-encased body can be seen. The entire imaginary world of Monsters, Inc. is cleverly conceived, and full of wit and charming visual touches. The animators at Pixar have once again outdone themselves.
Also, once again, Randy Newman's musical score is memorable. "You've Got A Friend in Me," which was featured in the original "Toy Story," and "When She Loved Me," from "Toy Story 2" were both Oscar nominated. This time out, the spotlight song is "If I Didn't Have You," and sounds very, well, Randy Newmanish.
Speaking of Oscar, next year's Academy Awards will be the first to have a category just for animated films. "Monsters, Inc." is obviously Disney's and Pixar's bid for gold. However, the smart money will probably be on the green ogre over at Dreamworks, "Shrek."
But if you have young kids, "Monsters, Inc." should be a holiday stop.
"Monsters, Inc." opens nationwide on Friday, November 2 and is rated "G."
Monsters, Inc. - Official site
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