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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Movie Scene
'Monsters, Inc.' may be fall's funniest film

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

MONSTERS, INC. (Rated G) Four Stars (Excellent)

Not just for kids, this may be the funniest film of the fall — and also the most imaginative, telling a story of monsters in an alternate universe trying to get a little girl back to her own world. Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, James Coburn, Steve Buscemi. Directed by Pete Docter. Walt Disney Pictures, 85 mins. Rated G.

"Monsters, Inc." is, quite simply, astonishing: a computer-animated feature that is at once wonderfully funny, filled with heart and crafted with a visual brilliance that makes its predecessors look like crayon drawings.

This is to take nothing away from such previous Disney/Pixar efforts as the "Toy Story" films or "A Bug's Life." But, like "Shrek" earlier this year, "Monsters, Inc." benefits from the quantum leaps in technology that seem to happen almost daily. They give the filmmakers the ability to literally depict anything they can imagine — and to render those images with such life-like vividness that you'd swear you were watching characters and objects that existed in the real worldStill, looks will only get you so far. What elevates "Monsters, Inc." beyond an attractive oddity is the same thing that made "Toy Story" and "Shrek" such winners: the script, in this case written by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson. It's smart and clever and works on enough levels to amuse both young and old.

"Monsters, Inc." is set in Monstropolis, an alternative universe populated with bizarre creatures whose world is powered by the screams of children in our world. Yes, these are the monsters that children think lurk under the bed or in the shadows of the closet.

In fact, closet doors are the portals to Monstropolis, where Monsters, Inc., serves as a kind of boo-powered Con Edison. There are rules, of course: We learn that, while the monsters are allowed to scare the kids, they can't touch them because any contact would be fatal — to the monsters.

Indeed, the mere introduction of a child's sock from the other world triggers alarms and calls forth a decontamination team in yellow Hazmat suits.

The top scarer at Monsters, Inc., is James P. (Sulley) Sullivan (John Goodman), a mammoth, good-natured fellow with turquoise and purple fur. Together with his assistant, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), he's in line to win the company's award as top producer of children's screams — much to the jealous consternation of colleague Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), a particularly nasty chameleon.

Sulley is, in fact, affable and lovable, while Mike — a one-eyed green basketball with arms and legs — is more Type A, pushing Sulley to be all that he can be. They both can see their futures with the company going down the drain, however, when a little girl from the real world accidentally gets through the closet door into Monsters, Inc.

From there, the race is on to try to get this tyke back to her own world. Kids are considered poison, though this one doesn't seem to have a negative effect on Sulley and Mike.

Fanciful and inventive, "Monsters, Inc." envisions a wonderfully imaginative universe in which the monsters all look different but their personalities are all identifiably human: from the likable Sulley to the hyper Mike to the ambitious Randall to their pompous boss, Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn). The voices are perfect and the animation is thrilling, both for the vision it represents and for the adventures it depicts.

Goodman and Crystal are as natural a comedy team as Goodman and David Spade were in "The Emperor's New Groove." Crystal in particular seems to be having a high old time improvising in character as the worried, talkative Mike. He's like a bird buzzing around a rhino in his relationship with Sulley.

I've said it before but it bears repeating: "Monsters, Inc." may be animated but that doesn't mean it's just for kids. You'll be hard-pressed to find a funnier movie this fall — or a more eye-popping one.

This will be the first year that the Academy Awards will include a category for feature-length animation. Until now, it appeared that "Shrek" had things sewn up. But "Monsters, Inc." makes it a horse race — and promises to be the movie that could give "Harry Potter" a run for the box-office crown as well.