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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #343: Monsters, Inc.

The writers at Pixar have this ability to take ordinary concepts or objects and turn them upside down. What if children’s toys sprang to life when you left the room? What if cars could talk? With “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) they asked the question “what if the monsters in your closet were average guys trying to make a living?”

I first saw Pixar’s fourth film while living in Lima, Peru, with my brother and my mom. American movies in South America are usually released in English with Spanish subtitles, but they make an exception for kids’ movies and dub them in Spanish. I would have preferred to hear the voices of John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, but as with all Pixar films this is more about story and visuals than dialogue. Besides, once they get to that scene where Mike and Sully enter the room with a million doors, who cares what language they speak? Only one word comes to mind: WOW!

In the city of Monstropolis, power is generated by capturing the screams of little children who live in our world. To capture this power, monsters cross a portal into houses all over the world and walk into children’s closet to scare the screams out of them with their best scary faces. This could be a low-rent horror movie, but director Pete Docter and many more writers at Pixar designed theses monsters as mostly cuddly and very colourful.

James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (voice of John Goodman) is employee of the month at Monsters Inc., but not that scary in the daylight. A gigantic purple creature covered with fur and with horns on his head, he lives with his best friend Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) a one-eyed volleyball whose job is to make sure Sulley stays at the top of his game. When Sulley crosses the door into our world, Mike is on the other side to make sure Sulley makes it back and to make sure the door is sent away. It is a dangerous job, since the monsters are convinced little human children are toxic to them. Imagine that: the big scary monsters are scared of two-year-olds.

One day the unthinkable happens. Sulley finds an unattended door on the factory floor. Out of it comes Boo (voice of Mary Gibbs) a toddler who does not fear Sulley but sees him as a big stuffed toy. Sulley on the other hand is initially terrified and wants nothing more than to send her home, but the door is gone and he has no option than to take her home to Mike. Inside their bachelor pad the monsters panic since by now the authorities know there is a human in Monstropolis and teams of soldiers in biohazard suits are roaming the city to find her.

The film’s villain is Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi) a lizard-shaped monster with the ability to blend into different backgrounds. In addition to being Sulley’s bitter rival at Monsters Inc., Randall has a nefarious plot involving Boo and has no qualms about squashing any one who gets in his way.

The rest of the equally colourful cast includes Celia (voice of Jennifer Tilly) a receptionist with snake hair, tentacle legs and one eye. Perhaps because of the singular eye, she is also Mike’s girlfriend. James Coburn voices the aptly named Henry J. Waternoose III, a spider-like creature and CEO of Monsters Inc. Then of course there is Pixar regular John Ratzenberger who cameos as the most famous monster in the Himalayas.

Another star of the movie is the animation. Technology has made many leaps forward since 2001, but back then the fur on Sulley’s body was a major achievement, as each hair had to be individually animated. Then there is the climactic chase scene in the door vault, where Mike, Sulley, Boo and Randall navigate a massive room filled with millions of doors who can send them to any place on planet Earth.

Also noteworthy is the enduring humour of the script. I have an uncle who almost never goes to the movies, yet the Pixar films are one of the few that can capture his attention for an hour and a half. He especially enjoyed the blooper reel at the end of the movie that the animators created just to add more jokes once the credits started rolling. His favourites involve the ones with Roz (voice of Bob Peterson) the slug-like (female) administrative clerk with a raspy voice.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to Monstropolis as a 14-year-old and if the movie plays on TV today I find if just as funny and imaginative. Hopefully this year’s “Monsters University” will prove to be just as enjoyable for both my uncle and I.


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