- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Pixar Animation, back in the marketplace with the delightful and sometimes dazzling feature "Monsters, Inc.," seems stuck in an enviable rut.
John Lasseter and his colleagues make masterpiece comedy fables realized through state-of-the-art computer animation. "Monsters, Inc." is a rousing successor to "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2." It's also a stylistic breakthrough in at least one area that has eluded the Pixar animators: sustained and satisfying human characterization.
Admittedly, there's something very special about the breakthrough figure in their new movie. She's a babbling youngster of age 2 or 3 called Boo, after one of her favorite comprehensible words. Boo's dialogue was derived from Mary Gibbs, the daughter of a Pixar story artist, while she was maturing from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2.
Boo's initial misfortune and ultimate good fortune is to cross a barrier that separates childish imaginations from monsters. The monsters dwell in a metropolis called Monstropolis and depend for power on the scream energy that can be tapped from the nocturnal fears of human children and stored in cylinders. The portals between the two worlds are closet doors in children's bedrooms. The big scare factory in Monstropolis stores replicas of these doors by the millions. An assembly line positions doors for periodic opening and hit-and-run peekaboo visitations from a veritable star system of Scarers.
Boo initially is targeted by the sneakiest Scarer, a lizardy cutthroat called Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi). Randall resents the prolonged success of the best Scarer of them all, bearlike James P. Sullivan, or Sulley, an amiable hulk destined to add a special luster to the career of John Goodman. By accident, the inquisitive and playful Boo runs into Sulley, whom she instinctively calls "Kitty."
Sulley becomes Boo's reluctant protector with the assistance of his roomie and right-hand monster, Mike Wazowski, a one-eyed and green-hued spheroid tailored to the voice and personality of Billy Crystal. On the factory floor, Mike is Sulley's scare assistant. He becomes a complaining but valiant assistant in the conspiracy to keep Boo hidden until she can be restored safely to her own bedroom.
The good monsters must outmaneuver Randall and the Child Detection Agency watchdogs. They also must survive an exile in the Himalayas, where Sulley and Mike bump into a lonely Abominable Snowman voiced by John Ratzenberger. The animators stage a fabulous downhill run for Sulley in the teeth of a blizzard a feat that illustrates Pixar's ability to reconcile humorous invention with inspired heroic depiction.
The finale is even more spectacular. It involves a stylized roller-coaster chase within the assembly-line system of the factory, where conveyor belts transport and sort the vast inventory of closet doors.
Pixar screenwriters and animators seem to overlook so little in "Monsters" that the occasional lapses sort of amaze you. Perhaps the most conspicuous is that we don't get an adequate account of Mike's return trip from the snowbound Himalayas.
One of the cliffhanging details in "Monsters, Inc." is cleverly anticipated in the cartoon that precedes the feature, "For the Birds." This gem, directed by Ralph Eggleston, who also contributed to the scenario for "Monsters, Inc.," should be the next Academy Award winner as best animated short. Nothing against "Shrek," but if "Monsters, Inc." fails to win the first Academy Award in a new category created exclusively for animated features, it will be something of a crime against movie history.

* * * *
TITLE: "Monsters, Inc."
RATING: G (Fleeting comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Pete Docter. Co-directed by Lee Unkrich and David Silverman. Executive produced by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. Screenplay by Mr. Stanton and Daniel Gerson from an original story by Mr. Docter, Jill Culton, Jeff Pidgeon and Ralph Eggleston. Production design by Harley Jessup and Bob Pauley and animation supervision by Glenn McQueen and Richard Quade.
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes (including the cartoon short "For the Birds")
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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