Cleverly cute

Jovial co-workers ease tensions at Three Mile Island.

Jovial co-workers ease tensions at Three Mile Island.

Now showing at Century Park Lane 16, Century Sparks 14, Century Riverside 12, Horizon Stadium Cinemas, Northgate Movies 10 and Martis Village Theatre.
Rated 4.0

The computer animation wizards at Pixar have delivered yet another Disney gem in Monsters, Inc., a funny, inventive and often cuter-than-baby-ducklings story about what really lurks on the other side of that closet door.

These movies are so much fun to look at that the story becomes of secondary importance. Lucky for us viewers, the quality of the script for Monsters, Inc. is on par with the wonder of its visual treats. This movie is perhaps the cleverest of the Pixar films, which include the Toy Story movies and A Bug’s Life.

The premise is a priceless one: Monsters inhabit a parallel universe, where they report to work at a scream factory—children’s screams being the main source of energy in their world. A big blue furball creature named Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) is on his way to the all-time scream production record, popping out of children’s closets with the help of his green eyeball sidekick, Mike (Billy Crystal).

While Sullivan is racking up screams at record pace, the overall scream power supply is at an all-time low. Things get further complicated when a small girl gets through an open door and starts running amok in the monster world. It turns out monsters are as afraid of children as children are of monsters, and the girl’s infiltration causes panic in their population.

The little girl, whom Sullivan will nickname Boo, is a terrific creation voiced by Mary Gibbs. Past Pixar films have struggled a bit with the human form, but they hit all the right notes with Boo. She takes a liking to the large, hairy Sullivan, who she calls Kitty. When she laughs, we laugh, and when she cries, it actually hurts to watch. The relationship that evolves between Sullivan and Boo is sweet, and there are many times when the Boo character feels as real as a character in a live-action film.

Visually, this film is perhaps the best of the Pixar features, while my vote for best overall computer-animated film still goes to DreamWorks’ Shrek. The monster world provides an excuse for eye-popping colors, and the artists are doing a brilliant job with the little details that mean so much, like the texture of fur or the blinking of an eye.

A nice example of this film’s inventiveness is the idea that Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and the Abominable Snowman are banished monsters forced to live in our world for committing infractions back home. In one of the film’s greater moments, we get to see one of those monsters having a rather peculiar and hilarious reaction to its punishment.

Goodman and Crystal do a good job with their character voices, and while they don’t leave the lasting impressions we got from Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, they do leave you willing to follow their adventures in future films. Steve Buscemi lends his voice to a centipede-like villain, and the likes of James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly and John Ratzenberger also pop up on the soundtrack.

While Monsters, Inc. doesn’t pack as big of an emotional punch as the Toy Story pics, it does maintain a high level of sweetness and garners many laughs. The finale is a seat-grabber involving a great chase through many closet doors into different parts of the planet, and the film’s final moment is a big, goofy grin-inducer.

While computer graphics are sometimes too glossy and clean in live-action films, resulting in jarring moments of fakeness, they are a blast in the cartoon format. Monsters, Inc. is a nice addition to a genre that is just a few years old and has a long, entertaining life ahead of it.