Rated G - Running Time: 1:46 - Released 11/2/01

Well, the folks at Pixar Studios have done it again. The Disney-affiliated computer animation company that blasted onto the scene in 1995 with the now legendary Toy Story and followed it up spectacularly with A Bug's Life (1998) and Toy Story 2 ('99), delivers another delightful piece of crisply rendered cartoon animation, complete with a touching and witty story, a talented cast, and a colorful palette of pixels fairly jumping off the screen. Although it is generally a rule in the bloated and self-recycling business of American film that yesterday's explosion of cinematic ingenuity becomes today's faded old hat, this company is still batting 1000 so far.

Written by Dan Gerson and Andrew Stanton, directed by Peter Docter with David Silverman and Lee Unkrich, and starring the voice talents of John Goodman and Billy Crystal, Monsters, Inc. introduces us to the big-city life of Monstropolis, where the streets are populated by every size, shape and color of multi-armed, multi-eyed beastie that could ever be thought up by a quivering child in the twilight of sleep. At the center of town is Monsters, Inc., an immense power plant where creatures go to work every morning harvesting the screams of little girls and boys. The screams, collected in steel canisters, contain the energy used to provide power to the entire city, and the leading scream production team are James P. 'Sulley' Sullivan (Goodman), a big, blue Teddy-bear-like creature, and his partner, Mike Wazowski (Crystal), a short, sarcastic green blob with two stubby arms and legs and one gigantic eye. What starts out like a regular day for the two pals changes drastically when a human pre-schooler (Mary Gibbs) escapes into the plant through the portal that connects the giant scream production room with her closet door, and latches affectionately onto Sully, whom she re-names "Kitty." Since children are regarded as toxic to monsters (according to rumors, "even a touch could kill you"), the entire plant shuts down while a frantic search for the girl is enacted by the shadowy members of the CDA (Child Detection Agency).

Donning protective clothing, the two friends take the child (nicknamed "Boo") to their apartment to try to figure out a way to get her back home before anyone notices. What Sully and Mike don't know is that Boo was intentionally smuggled in by Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), a sinister creature who plans to hook her up to his new scream extracting machine and thereby finally exceed Sully as the plant's top producer.

What makes Pixar cartoons so immensely successful is not merely the crispness of the animation, which is indeed impressive, nor the work of the highly capable vocal talent, but the company's insistence on good quality screen writing. The script for Monsters, not only presenting an engaging narrative but brimming with clever asides and fabulously fun and interesting characters, is what makes the difference between simply another cute kids' movie and a truly enjoyable experience for all ages. Though the film lacks a strong adult female character, Goodman and Crystal make a spirited pair, and the childlike warblings of pre-schooler Gibbs, coupled with the irrepressibly cute rendering of the little girl by the animators, provide a surprisingly strong presence despite her limited vocabulary of recognizable words. Rounding out the cast with enjoyable supporting performances are James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Frank Oz, and John Ratzenberger. With this combination of vocal talent, the colorful computer work, and sparkling script, Monsters, Inc. continues the proud tradition established by the Pixar/Disney animation cooperative. ****½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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