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