The best compliment you can give any animator is that you forgot you were watching a cartoon. A truly good animated feature leaps beyond the restraints of it's unrealistic world into the hearts and minds of its audience. Leaving behind the trappings of its pencil drawn, or computer generated world, and jumping into the life of its viewers just as a live action film would. Pixar has been doing this for a long time now and appears to be set to continue producing quality films for years to come.
Monsters, Inc. is no exception to the high Pixar standard. These people have a knack for creating realistic, and HUMAN characters out of the most unrealistic and outrageous forms. In this case, it’s a group of monsters, who live in a dimension parallel to ours. Their world is powered by the energy of screams, and to collect them, an entire industry has been built to enable highly trained monsters to leap for the closets of children in order to scare a scream out of them. Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) are the best scarers in the biz, until one night something goes horribly wrong, and a little girl follows them back through their closet portal into their world.
Never has CGI animation reached the levels it does in this film. Even the prematurely abortive, and highly touted CGI masterpiece Final Fantasy didn’t reach the levels of realism that Pixar hits hear. Yes, the characters are still cartoons at their root, but the stunning nature of the textures, backgrounds, and scenery generated for this film are breathtaking. Sully’s hair…. sweet lord I can’t say enough about the big blue monster’s hair. It’s real!!! I swear to god I could reach through the screen and stroke is soft blue and purple fur! It floats and waves, and moves when he talks and gestures. If fluffs, it flattens, it wafts. WOW. Pixar, you have really outdone yourselves.
But, as Final Fantasy proved, pretty pictures don’t equal success. As always, Pixar’s films are never just a bunch of fancy CGI. The great granddaddy of computer-generated entertainment has a phenomenal group of writers with a knack for smart, witty dialogue and deeply moving storylines with important lessons for all. Pixar isn’t making kid’s films, they're making REAL family films. The type of films everyone can sit down and laugh and love with. That’s a rarity. Most of the time when someone says “family film” what they usually mean is kiddie movie that adults can sit through without falling asleep. However, when Pixar says family movie, they mean FAMILY movie. They’ve got something everyone can enjoy, kids or no kids. That kind of broad appeal is hard to find, and even harder to produce.
Is there anything that Steve Buscemi can’t do? He’s perfect as the smarmy monster villain, bent on personal gain. And John Goodman is so good as Sully, that you don’t even really notice he’s the man behind the hair. The banter between Goodman and Crystal isn’t just funny it is also realistic. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were buddies in real life.
You see, the real Pixar genius is their knack for translating their characters emotions effortlessly from screen to heart. And I’m not just talking dialogue. It's expressions, it's movement, it’s the feeling and energy that they imbue into their creations. To watch their big blue character is to know the man behind the monster.
Monsters, Inc. isn’t perfect. In fact it’s probably a step below the Toy Story films, and definitely not quite up to the level of Shrek. But that’s an incredibly high standard to hold it to. Its easily the equal of A Bug’s Life, and probably better than most everything else driveling across the screen of your local megaplex. The laughs are whole hearted, the characters are endearing, but I don’t think Monsters quite manages to really tackle adult enough themes and dialogue to boost it up into that Toy Story/Shrek stratosphere. .
Kids or no kids, it’s worth taking some time to see Monsters, Inc.