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Alive 4

A quick review, in a last minute spirit, by CiH.

Time,  and  deadlines march on,  and we are on the verge of another issue of
Alive!  In  amongst  all of this activity,  mainly on ST Survivor's part,  I
might add,  I've been finding some time to catch up with my cinema-going. In
this  case,  I've been to see the latest work from our favourite table  lamp
animators,  Pixar  Studios.  (In  association  with those evil  megalomaniac
children's entertainers, Walt Disney.)

As any fool knows, they are the people that provided the graceful pixels for
the  groundbreaking  'Toy  Story'.  Now they have struck again,  with  their
latest animated feature called 'Monsters Inc'.  Now I'm all sure you've been
unable  to  avoid the pre-publicity and hype for this film,  and you're  all
asking  that      crucial  question,  that is "Is it any good?" Well  I  can
happily  report,  that  in spite of all the hard sell,  soft toys,  software
licensing,  and  possibly septic tanks being sold with Monsters Inc branding
on them, there is rather a good film brewing in there as well. Which was the
point in the first place surely?

Without  trying to give away too much,  the story is about the misadventures
of  James P.Sullivan,  or 'Sully', a big blue furry monster,  who is the top
child  scarer for Monsters Inc,  an energy supply company with a difference.
Their form of energy comes from the aura generated by children's screams  of
terror, late at night. It turns out that Sully and company are the 'monsters
of  childish imagination' that come out of the closet.  So according to  the
storyline of this film,  they are not really just in the imagination, and it
seems they serve a purpose, which is to gather the screams thus 'harvested',
so  the other monsters can run their electric hairdryers,  planes trains and
automobiles,  and  those  interesting little battery operated  adult  "toys"
which - SNIP!

A brilliant parallel 'normal' universe has been created,  which subverts its
subject matter,  much like the Flintstones cartoons grafted a 1960's America
onto  the  stone  age.  So  this  turns  the  suspiciously  New  York  alike
'Monstropolis' into a monster friendly parallel universe, nudging up against
ours.  The  staff at Monsters Inc are pre-occupied with a looming energy  or
'scream  shortage',  as  modern children,  exposed to higher levels,  of sex, 
violence,  and  console  games,  prove  to be harder to scare.  As the  film
reveals,  various  parties  have their own ideas how this problem should  be
overcome,  especially the villainous and snake-like Randall,  Sully's deadly
rival for the all-time scarer record. But the real fun and confusion starts,
when  'Boo',  a  human  child,  perceived as deadly poison to the  monsters,
manages to escape through her closet door into the monster world.

There  is  a  high initial hilarity count,  as the appearance of  the  child
provokes  a panic reaction in a top Monstropolis Sushi restaurant akin to  a
nuclear meltdown. Sully and his green cyclops pal Mike Wazowski have to find
a  way  of  getting her back without getting caught.  The rest of  the  film
focuses on this,  and the developing relationship between Sully, showing his
tender non-scary side, and Boo. The depiction of Boo as a curious toddler is
very  effectively  done too,  and she has one of the strongest parts in  the
film, in spite of having no actual proper dialogue.

There  is  a strong running theme of the value of friendship,  as the  buddy
relationship  between Sully and Mike is put to the test by this crisis,  but
they  both  come  through when it matters.  Also there is a  little  bit  of
romance,  between  a  Medusa haired receptionist Celia,  and Mike (otherwise
known  as her "Googly Bear!") which fits in nicely to the overall plot,  and
doesn't get in the way.

Is is all resolved happily,  well yes of course,  and the energy shortage is
sorted  out  too,  I'll sort of half-give away how,  by saying that laughter
always overcomes fear.  This is a warm hearted and humourous film,  with one
or two marginally scary moments, but even these aren't quite what they first

The  characters  are given voice by a variety of stars,  not quite  as  top-
drawer  as getting the likes of Sharon Stone and Woody Allen for  Antz,  but
you  can't go wrong with John Goodman as the big but gentle at heart  Sully,
and  Billy  Crystal,  as  fast talking Mike Wazowski.  Steve  Buscemi  fills
Randall's  scheming  shoes very well,  and we have James Coburn  turning  in
unexpectedly  as  the  big  boss  of Monsters  Inc,  the  crablike  Henry  J
Waternoose.  the  part  of Boo,  is played by a real live little girl,  Mary 
Gibbs, who is now five, and might just be past all that childish stuff?

Of  course we're all interested in the technical stuff.  You all know by now
that  there  are up to three million individual hairs animated on  the  main
character  Sully.  That  would  take a lot of base model STFMs,  working  in
parallel  to  kick  out,  so  there is some very  expensive  hardware  of  a
Graphical  and  Silicated  persuasion involved?  The end result  is  a  very
detail-rich  environment.  It  really demands an eventual DVD purchase,  and
frequent  pauses  to appreciate the amount of information packed  into  each
individual frame.  There are lots of clever little touches with action going
on  in  the  background,  this needs seeing more than once to  pick  up  the
nuances.  We  get convincing detail even on things like newspaper  headlines
and details on the tiniest items of paperwork.

Certain  set pieces are verging on the awesome,  including a  roller-coaster
chase in a vast infinite warehouse full of closet doors.  (See the film,  it
makes  more sense that way!) Other set pieces make cheeky references to  key
moments  from  other films,  such as the slow motion 'heroes entrance'  from
Armageddon, when Sully and the other top scarers arrive on the 'scare floor'
in a manner reminscent of Bruce Willis and the gang.

It  is  apparent this animation is a real labour of love from  beginning  to
end.  There  is a 'short' feature at the beginning called 'Birds',  which we
suspect  is someone's spare time relaxation project which was just stuck  in
for  the sheer hell of it.  There is also a very long credit sequence at the
end, which includes a series of out-takes and scene stealing practical jokes
from  the  animated cast.  This adds extra value to what is a  quality  film

Alive!  Conclusion,  if  you only get to see one animated feature this year,
then make sure it is this one!

CiH, Feb '02

Alive 4