Monsters, Inc. is a computer animated motion picture produced by a collaboration between Disney and Pixar, theatrically released in the United States on November 2, 2001. It is the fourth such collaboration, following the films Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2. It was directed by a team of people based on a script written by Dan Gerson and Andrew Stanton, and was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

The film continues the visual style demonstrated in the earlier Disney/Pixar films with the same progressive improvement in computer animation that each film has shown. In this film, distinctive improvements are noticeable in the texturing and the movement of the characters, especially in the two main characters, Mike and Sulley. The technological improvements of computer animation continue to impress me.

Without giving away too much, the plot of the story is as follows. James P. Sullivan, known throughout the film as Sulley (and voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (voiced wonderfully by Billy Crystal) live in Monstropolis and are employees of Monsters Inc. Monsters Inc. is the utility company of Monstropolis that generates energy from the terrified screams of children. The employees of Monsters Inc. enter children's closets, sneak into their rooms, and scare them silly, storing the screams in storage containers for later use in generating power for Monstropolis. Sulley is the top "scream generator" at Monsters, Inc. (meaning he's the best at frightening children). One day, he accidentally lets a little girl into Monstropolis, and since monsters are actually very afraid of children, pandemonium ensues.

This film is definitely up to the high standard of the Disney/Pixar collaborations of the past. Although this movie probably isn't appropriate for very small children (my three year old niece would have been scared to death by a few of the scenes, especially one in which Sulley roars in the simulation room), it is a very enjoyable film for pretty much anyone over the age of six. The film excels in every aspect: good story, very good animation, great voice acting, and a lot of humor on a variety of levels. The story itself touches on issues of corporate corruption, the nature of friendship, and unreasoned fear; it actually tells a good story with a solid message, which is far better than some of the purely inane films that have come out recently (Freddy Got Fingered and Saving Silverman come to mind).

The real reason to go, though, is the laughs, and I think this is the funniest Disney/Pixar film to date. It opens with an animated short, For The Birds, that is unquestionably the best short Pixar has done to date; truly hilarious stuff. The film itself is loaded with all sorts of slapstick, visual humor, and parodies, and one can of course play the ol' "spot the Toy Story references" game, of which I spotted at least three (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Jessie the Cowgirl are all in there, and probably more that I missed). I thoroughly enjoyed myself and laughed more than I have in months; it was a great release for me and probably for others in the theatre. The film was good enough that it received applause from the crowd at the end when I viewed it in the theater, a very rare thing in a movie theater.

Also worth noting are the superb voice acting performances of some of the supporting players. James Coburn as the corporate head, Jennifer Tilly as Celia (Mike's girlfriend), Mary Gibbs as Boo (the girl that got into Monstropolis), the always-good Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs (the villain, if there was one), and John Ratzenberger as the Abominable Snowman were all fantastic in this, and their high-quality voice acting really made the whole thing click, at least for me.

I have no real complaints about this film in any way, which is a sure sign that I thoroughly enjoyed myself at it. For me personally, it goes onto my short list of "best films of 2001" alongside Moulin Rouge and Shrek, and is definitely one of the bright spots in a bleak year both for films and for America. It is significantly better (in my eyes) than Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life and perhaps as good as the original Toy Story. If you enjoyed the earlier Pixar films at all and are looking for a good time and a good laugh, this is definitely worth seeing.

While Monsters Inc might appeal visually to most people with its dazzling special effects, I found that sadly, the film tries to push some very American values onto the minds of children and adults all over the world.

While watching the film I failed to understand who exactly the film makers were trying to entertain. Does an eight year old give a hoot about American corporate values? One would then think that like the Simpsons, the film actually attempted to reach the adult public. However my mind was numbed from the movie's mindless slapstick comedy and weak, predicatable plot.

A few minutes into the film and the hidden messages become clear: You must live to work, not work to live. Your job is your life, thus if you lose your job you lose your life, thus you must surrender your dignity to the Corporations and the fat cats who run them. America's capitalist dog-eat-dog, hire-and-fire competitive lifestyle is the way and everyone must worship the leader, the quarterback, the employee of the month, the overarchiever. Those who lag behind the "best" (Sully) are pathetic losers, simply digitised lifeless extras, not unlike the common citizen of any American city. A few hispanic and european surnames give the production an air of political correctness. The characters are incredibly self centered (especially Wazowski) and seemingly have no interest in life outside work and the occasional relationship.

Unfortunately most of us have already grown up subjected to this worthless, brainwashing tripe. Ever heard of the Flintstones, or Antz? I'm sure we could cite several more examples of cartoons/movies that are aimed at young children that carry such a ludicrous message. Most people unfortunately have already been numbed by these values and have already accepted them as axiomatic. Those who fail to comply with the stereotypes and attempt to think independently are commited to the great American bin of loserness, where they are forgotten and lost among the millions of Johnsons, Kowalzkys and Sanchezes who populate this planet called America.

I personally wouldn't want my kid to grow up in this "Hi honey, I'm home" world that doesn't really exist. Teaching children that they should run their lives exactly as their parents and grandparents did in their heyday is not acceptable as our world today is far different. Would it not be more constructive to let them discover for themselves how to live life instead of pushing this outdated 50's rhetoric into their minds?

However for as long as films like Monsters, Inc. continue to fascinate us with their flashy special effects nobody will pay attention to what such films are really trying to say.

Oh, who cares, it looks "awesome", the plot is unsurprisingly tried-and-tested and yes, the action figures are already for sale at Toys R' Us.
If you loved Brazil you might like this film. It has many of the same themes of government corruption and the effort of an individual to find a better life within the system.

The omnipresent duct work is replaced with doors and there is no Robert Deniro, but there are many similarities.

The repeated scenes of a rapid deployment of government contamination squads are taken almost frame for frame from Brazil. (*Note the bolting of a metal protection plate to the floor).

Yes, I realize I am not the first person to observe this.

Long after the toys are gone from the shops, long after the shameless commercialism of the Disney empire has moved on to another film, I think Monsters, Inc. will be considered one of their best. In addition to the amazing animation, the in-jokes, and the humour, it has a strong (and surprisingly subversive) moral and social message.

On the surface, Monsters, Inc is a cutesy buddy movie. But it actually goes much deeper than that. It's about one just monster and his struggles against a corrupt system, about the value of personal loyalty and the triumph of principle over practicality.

* * * Warning: Massive Quantities of Spoilers Ahead * * *

The Society

We only see glimpses of Monstropolis life in the film, but it's clearly a peaceful, prosperous city. Its citizens have plenty of material possessions - cars, TVs with little monster horns, apartments with nice views. They have enough extra to go out to sushi restaraunts. A fruit seller is doing well enough to give his wares away to his friends. It's a safe city, where children play on the sidewalks. It's a clean, pleasant place - no one even jaywalks.

The shortage of power presents a crisis, admittedly, but it has only a minor impact on the city. And no one really thinks about how their energy is derived from the screams of little children. They've been taught that human children are toxic creatures, something to be feared. No monster would think of a child the way they think of their dear little bundles of tentacles, nor pity a human tot crying in the night as they comfort their own wee critter. Children are dangerous, and the monsters who go into their world to extract Scream are brave indeed, saving Monstropolis from rolling blackouts.

Monsters, Inc. is a company of heroes, keeping Monstropolis safe and comfortable in a time of crisis.

The Principal Conflict

Henry J. Waternoose III: The Banality of Evil

Although Randall is the visible antagonist in the film, Waternoose is the true villain. He is a paternal, jovial monster, who has earned the trust and loyalty of his staff. He runs the sort of company that does "bring your obscure relative to work day" (though he must have missed the memo on that particular one). He has a bunch of big softies on the scare floor, but he can still inspire them to go into what they believe to be mortal danger.

Like most important, powerful people, Waternoose knows the world is more complex than his underlings suspect. He knows, for instance, that children are not poisonous. He may tell trainees that "There's nothing more toxic than a human child. A single touch could kill you," but he picks Boo up himself before sending Sulley and Mike to exile.

Waternoose is driven by the desire to keep his company going, both because it has been his family for three generations, and because it is all that keeps the energy crisis in Monstropolis from becoming acute. As he himself says, "I'll kidnap a THOUSAND children before I let this company die, and I'll silence anyone who gets in my way!"

He probably sees himself as a good monster, driven to difficult measures by difficult times. No doubt he tells himself that you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and that his cause is worth a few sacrifices (though not notably sacrifices he has to make himself). He is an ordinary monster doing terrible things - the perfect illustration of the banality of evil.

James P. Sullivan: Though the Heavens Fall, Let Justice be Done

James P. Sullivan is an unlikely David to combat Waternoose's Goliath. He is not a revolutionary, just an normal Joe doing a normal days's work. He's the sort of guy who knows everyone by name and a pleasant word for them all. He's a people person, or rather a monsters' monster. What matters most to him is the web of relationships he has with his friends, his peers, and his boss.

Sulley combines this capacity for intense personal loyalty with real courage. He is capable of overcoming his fear of a human child enough to bond with Boo, to comfort her when she's frightened and to try to get her home. And he is brave enough to risk everything - his job, his friendship with Mike, even the company itself - to see her safely back into her own room. He refuses to send her back to the wrong place when Mike gets a door to somewhere with yodeling in the background. He won't even send her through the right door when he suspects that Randall is still a threat to her.

Partway through the film, Sulley has an uncomfortable experience when the monitor in the simulation room records him scaring a dummy. No doubt he has seen recordings of his roaring face before, and even been proud of how frightening he looks. But this time he sees himself through Boo's eyes, and realises that the children he scares are as upset as she is. This shift in attitude, again the product of empathy and courage, isn't really explored in the film. He does cheer Boo on when she attacks Randall and conquers her fear of him, despite the loss of scream this represents. But I don't know that Sulley would have been happy again on the scare floor, had things turned out differently.

Although the plot is rigged to create a happy ending, Sulley's doesn't realise that things will work out. He isn't thinking about whether Monsters, Inc. will stand or fall. He is simply and stubbornly determined to do what is right, to protect one innocent and helpless child from harm. He looks unhappy when Mike points out, "Sure we put the factory in the toilet, hundreds of people will be out of work now, not to mention the angry mob that'll come after us when there's no power." But he does't look like he regrets his choices, and he's clearly not so consumed by guilt that he can't think of a way out of the situation.

The Minor Characters

Mike Wazowski: Everyman

Very few people (or monsters) have Sulley's courage against the pressure of conformity. Most of us are more like Mike, just trying to get along in life. We want our creature comforts (like Mike's car), a chance at true love (like Celia), and a few laughs to get through the day.

Mike probably uses his humour to cover up a feeling of insecurity. Like everyone else, he admires Sulley. He relishes being the friend of Monsters, Inc.'s top scarer, telling off the two janitors who get too friendly ("You're making him lose his focus!"). He basks in reflected glory, getting Sulley to make reservations for him in a booked-up restaurant. Mike is not extraordinarily courageous or principled. He sees Boo as a threat to his normal life, and to his friendship with Sulley. So he leaps at whatever chance he can to get her out of their way, whether it be through the wrong door, or through the right one under Randall's aegis.

But when Sulley seems to choose Boo over him in Nepal, Mike shows real greatness of character. He returns to the monster world, apologises to Sulley for making him choose at all, and helps his friend get Boo back home. He is not brave monster on his own, but he is a good friend in a crisis. He does the right thing in the end.

Randall Boggs: The Overt Villain

Randall the pseudo-chameleon is the most disappointing character in the film. He is openly evil, willing to "dispose of" anyone who gets in his way. He ruthlessly abuses his sidekick Fungus, and his plans for world (or Monsters, Inc.) domination are gloriously unformed.

In short, he is a cardboard characterisation, only suited to draw attention away from the true villain of the piece. I shall waste no more prose on him.

I think I'll find this film very helpful when answering questions about twentieth-century history from my son when he's older. It can be hard to convey to a child how an ordinary society, for instance Germany in the 30's, could be founded on cruelty, or how fear was used to dehumanise a people they wanted to exploit. I would like to teach him to recognise the pitfalls of power that Waternoose exemplifies, and raise him to have the courage of his own convictions like Sulley.

I know that the scriptwriters didn't write all this into the film, at least not deliberately. But the plot rings true because these characteristics, and these forces, are part of human nature.

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