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Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter) 2001

For some reason, I don’t undergo the rapturous waves of joy that seem to be commonplace when people watch Pixar’s animated features. Their Toy Story films’ charm evaporated shortly after they began and left my head hurting from a combination of aural loudness and excessive camera motion. A Bug’s Life was cute enough (or, perhaps, too cute), but was nowhere near as original or engaging as Dreamworks’ Antz. It was a bit of a stunner, then, when the first act of Monsters Inc., their latest film, captured me. Whatever cynicism I had in me started to melt. The only complaint that I could really muster was that the monsters’ homeland looked a bit too close to modern day America (as opposed to a truly original, magical alternate world a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’s ToonTown.)

The cartoon’s premise is wonderfully clever. It follows a group of monsters that work for a power plant as they are made to scare children (whose screams generate energy for the monsters) by entering portals into their bedroom closets. Times are troubled, however, since children are becoming more and more desensitized to the monsters’ attempts to scare, due to media desensitization. It seems monster-land is undergoing a California-style energy crisis, and roaming blackouts are quickly becoming a possibility. This is great stuff! The film’s visuals don’t attempt to stun us with realism, but instead create an attractive alternate to stylized cel-based animation. The camera doesn’t spin wildly just because it can, like it did in the Toy Story films. This cartoon is “shot” almost like a normal movie.

The film’s setup is never delivered on, however. After about a half hour of goodness, plot rears its ugly head. A child’s entrance into the monster’s homeland creates a sense of hysteria (one that makes absolutely no sense by the end of the film). The monsters attempts to rid themselves of this child take up the remainder of the film, and nothing involved here is nearly as inspired as the film’s setup. The kid they are plagued with is insufferably cute and isn’t really a character so much as a prop (and an inconsistent one at that… her actions seem to only affect the surroundings when humor is sure to ensue). A few subplots, including a government conspiracy, emerge, but they don’t seem to make much sense. It’s a shame that the filmmakers use the film’s last half to ignore most of the rules that they inventively created in the film’s first half, as the film began to establish an almost convincing charm. I don't mind flights of fancy in a film, but I do like a consistent tone. This film fails to deliver one. As the lack of logical and character consistency continued,  this cartoon became less and less likable to me. Still, it's a mildly pleasurable diversion if such things don't bother you.



Jeremy Heilman