American cartoons have a terrific history of social commentary. A quick look at some Bugs Bunny World War II--era cartoons will reveal some fascinating (and occasionally racist and scary) takes on the events of the day.
Now, fast-forward to the summer of 2001. Remember when the most pressing news of the day was the California energy crisis? In the fine American tradition of taking the serious and animating it, director Pete Doctor has created a fanciful take on the problems of powering all that we desire. In Monsters, Inc., the creatures of a parallel world, Monstropolis, get their energy from the terrified screams of children. Night after night the scariest of the creatures step through closet doors and scare the beejesus out of kids. As the little humans scream, their energy is captured in capsules and used to power the televisions, streetlights and toasters of Monstropolis.
The scariest of them all is Sully (voice by John Goodman), a giant furry blue and purple monster whose sidekick Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is a giant neon green eyeball with arms and legs and not much more. Sully is doing what everyone considers extremely dangerous work, since children are considered to be extremely hazardous, toxic even. Thus, when a small girl wanders out of this world and into the world of Monstropolis, the city is thrown into turmoil.
Monsters, Inc. has a lot to recommend it. There is a ton of tongue-in-cheek humor, and frame after frame is packed with pop cultural references, sight gags and just plain cool action. The writers clearly went to town in amusing themselves with, for example, action-packed international chase scenes where the characters pop in and out of doors from Paris to rural Nepal. Wow.
Even more interesting is the animation itself. The crab-like boss monster scurries on six perfectly timed feet, and Mike's girlfriend Celia has Medusa-like hair with several rattlers that shake when she's mad. Best of all is Sully, whose furry body is covered with his luminescent hairs, each one perfectly in sync with his motions. It would be worth watching Monsters, Inc. in slow motion just for Sully's hair alone.
Despite the pure entertainment of it, overall the movie left me a little bit cold. Maybe it was because the writers seemed to be in love with their own cleverness. Or maybe because it was so sweet and saccharine that the scary parts weren't very scary (although this might recommend it further to the very littlest of kids). Or maybe, despite the anti-establishment underpinnings of the plot, the whole thing smacked of establishment attitudes, from classism to self- referentiality.
No matter. Monsters, Inc. is about the only thing you can take your kids to see at the Cineplex these days, and there's plenty to recommend it. Go see it for the cool factors, and leave your hopes for decent social commentary behind. That way you won't be disappointed.
-- Andrea Lucard