Film Discussion

Monsters, Inc. – Throwback 20

Ah, the early days of Pixar. A golden era of modern animation where creativity, imagination and technical excellence were the name of the game.

At the turn of the century and still years off from acquisition by Disney, Pixar had already released Toy Story, its sequel and A Bug’s Life, quickly cementing its status as a behemoth of animated film. Knowing what we know now about the hugely influential role the studio has played in filmmaking during the ensuing years, it would be truly fascinating to dip back in time and witness first-hand the development of those iconic early releases. One such film is Monsters, Inc.

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Originally released in the US in November 2001, Monsters, Inc. arrived on UK screens twenty years ago today on 8th February 2002. Grossing over $577 million at the box office at the time, it ranks as the third highest grossing film of that year and just missed out on winning Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards, to Shrek. (Pixar’s wait for the top gong was short-lived; they won two years later for Finding Nemo.)

The story has all the trademarks of a hit and achieves that sought-after double appeal for older and younger viewers alike. The city of Monstropolis is populated by an assortment of furry and scaly monsters, some of whom work at Monsters, Incorporated, a company which harvests the screams of human children to power the city’s electrical grid. Two such employees are best friends Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal), the former of whom vies with Randall (Steve Buscemi) for the prestigious company mantle of Best Scarer. The intrusion into their world of a young human girl named Boo upsets the status quo and soon leads to Sulley, entranced by this innocent and unassuming child, leading something of a mini revolution against the company’s scaring ethos.

© 2001 – Disney/Pixar – All Rights Reserved

The delightful rapport between Sulley and Mike balances out the otherwise disquieting subject matter. After all, we’re talking of a world where monsters literally lurk inside your bedroom cupboard; it’s a premise that would have done little to assuage a child’s fears of such happenings in reality if not for the film’s endearing heart. The four films Pete Docter has directed for Pixar – Monsters, Inc., Up, Inside Out and Soul – are among the most, ahem, soulful and spirited. The emotional punches Monsters, Inc. hits viewers with as Mike and Sulley grow to care for Boo before losing her, and eventually finding her again, prove affecting whether it’s your first or fourteenth viewing.

And such moments go hand-in-hand with gags that make you giggle even if it’s been the full two decades since you first saw the film: Mike and Sulley’s choice of odorant in the locker room; the hilarious farce of the trash compactor scene; Mike’s account of playing dodgeball – as the ball. It’s also infinitely quotable: “Put that thing back where it came from or so help me!”; “You think this is about sushi?”; “Do I look abominable to you?”. And the outtakes rival that of Toy Story 2’s: Ros appearing from within a toilet stall and other surprising locations; “I think you need to eadray your iptscray.”; and much more.

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In fact it’s this balancing of comedy – both witty and slapstick – with genuine pathos that makes Monsters, Inc. an early jewel in Pixar’s crown. Although, plot-wise, the third act chase through the factory interior might too closely resemble the final chase through the airport’s baggage section in Toy Story 2, the sequence is exciting, hilarious and surreal. Randy Newman’s score, too, is stellar just as it was for the previous three Pixar instalments.

Pixar’s newest feature, Turning Red, will be released to the world in March. But twenty years ago, Monsters, Inc. was merely the fourth release from a studio which had quickly became a behemoth of film animation and storytelling. Not every one of the studio’s twenty-five films has been the biggest hit critically and commercially, but when there are such outright gems as Inside Out and Soul released every few years, there’s little room to fault Pixar for its focus and flair.

Monsters, Inc. was released in the UK on 8th February 2002.

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