What better way to spend the holidays than curling up under the covers after a hard day of work and play, ready for a long nap only to then be woken up by a creaking sound, your closet door slowly opening and out emerges a vicious monster ready to steal your screams away! Wait, that actually sounds horrible, so instead I suggest you make the most of this merry season by getting your monster-fill at a screening of Disney•Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. 3D. Like Finding Nemo 3D just a few months back, I hadn’t immersed myself with this timeless Pixar adventure in over a decade. While Monsters, Inc. doesn’t age quite as well as the aforementioned film that traversed the deep blue sea and plundered America’s deep black wallets, you can’t argue against the manic bliss that Mike, Sully and Boo treat you with for an enthralling ninety minutes.
Monsters, Inc.’s story, if you recall, is linear in structure but given some hefty depth by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson’s zingy screenplay. Every night, a child’s room is invaded by monsters that teleport from their capital city of Monstropolis to planet earth via a closet door (think: the wardrobe portal to and from Narnia). A select group of monsters from the head industrial company, “Monsters, Inc.”, frighten children and collect their screams to use as energy to fuel the city. When a 3-year-old girl follows one of the monsters back into Monstropolis, Head-Scarer James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) and his cyclops pal, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), attempt to return the girl back to the human world before anyone notices – children are thought to carry germs and other fatal diseases, and are feared by every Monstropolis resident. During their mission, Sully becomes attached to the little girl, who he names “Boo,” and along with Mike attempts to thwart the nefarious plans of Sully’s work rival, Randall (Steve Buscemi), who mysteriously wants Boo for some evil purpose. All of this leads to one of the most visually imaginative scenes ever constructed in animation: the factory vault chase with all the doors moving up, down, sideways and every which way, assembly line-style. With the addition of 3D, the sequence is even more eye-popping, the vast space more noticeable and the sense of height almost vertigo-inducing. Revisiting one of Disney•Pixar’s most outstanding animation sequences in their repertoire is easily worth the price of admission alone; yes, even for that extra dollar.
There’s never a moment of pause in Monster’s, Inc., which is partially why it’s so easy and effortless to watch over and over again. Something is always happening, either visually, story-wise or via the racquetball-esque dialogue between Mike and Sully. In fact, Monsters, Inc. might be the most hyperactive Disney•Pixar film ever made, but that’s part of its indelible charm. No, there’s no grandiose message or intellectualizing going on that’s more often than not become a staple of Disney•Pixar’s more recent projects, but Monsters, Inc. doesn’t need that. It has its three heroes who are all so memorable in their own right – perhaps to a fault, considering I forgot many of the other supporting players in the movie – that all they require is a single animated gesture and humorous line to make us fall hard for them. And boy, do we ever!
The use of 3D on the individual characters is actually more effective than in Finding Nemo. Here, the bulbous designs of Sully and Mike stand out even more, matching their larger-than-life personalities thanks to the successful 3D conversion. I hope Disney•Pixar and Disney Animation Studios continue experimenting with 3D, because each new project seems more fine-tuned with the technology than the prior ones.
Of course, I’m sure many of you might be wondering how my adult perspective varies from my childhood one. I don’t remember being very afraid of any of the monsters in Monsters, Inc. but I’ve now come to realize how much of a weak link the character of Randall is compared to the rest of the film and its inhabitants. I believe if the design had shifted to make Randall more unique, more frightening, his villainy would have had a stronger and more memorable impact throughout Disney•Pixar lore. Instead, he’s little more than a reptile who whines more than horrifies. The casting of Steve Buscemi, whose voice has an appropriate and intriguing reptilian devilishness, is not to blame. The character simply doesn’t work as a villain, specifically as a monster who is supposed to be the epitome of Boo’s greatest fear. Randall’s slithery sleaziness is a lot more effective than the boring and dull Pitch Black from this year’s Rise of the Guardians, but both struggle with the same issue: they fail to live up to their scare potential.
My last quick comment is regarding Mike Wazowski. While Boo and Sully are poised as the emotional centerpieces of the film — naturally receiving the “awws” and “ooos” from the audience — as an adult, I couldn’t help but find myself more drawn in by Mike’s crazy antics. The gushy, sappy father-daughter relationship formed between Boo and Sully is very sweet and probably moved many critics to tears, but once you’ve seen the film a few times, it really boils down to the replay value, and those moments each and every time belong to Mike Wazoski, voiced phenomenally by Billy Crystal. According to me, this is not up for debate: Mike Wazowski is Billy Crystal’s greatest role to date, so hilarious yet sensible and lovable all the same. Boo and Sully don’t have much of a character arc, and are for the most part one-dimensional when it comes to their individual personalities, but Mike maneuvers from a scared and skeptic sidekick to the rational hero who gets the girl in the end. Every time Mike had an encounter with Roz (I cannot believe I forgot about this batty, scene-stealing gem!), I bowled over in fits of laughter. Every time Mike randomly burst out into song and dance or blurted out some insane one-liner, I was a howling mess. The character of Mike Wazowski, accompanied by the Oscar®-worthy vocal performance from Billy Crystal, still stands the test of time as one of animation’s best character creations. It’s ironic that such a simple character design could yield such a dynamic, memorable movie hero.
With 3D that adds greater depth and tangibility to characters we already know and love, Monsters, Inc. 3D is guaranteed to brighten up your holiday and titillate your nostalgic senses. Those, like myself, who are revisiting this film as an adult might find a very different yet still rewarding experience. This 2001 Disney•Pixar effort isn’t as innovative as its predecessors (A Bug’s Life excluded) or as maturely themed as its subsequent heirs to the Pixar throne, but sometimes simple execution provides the grandest of results. Monsters, Inc. 3D reminds us that at the end of the day, all you need is “BOO!”
Please be sure to check out Monsters, Inc. 3D at a theater near you. It releases today, December 19th!
To get you excited for the re-release, take a look at this special featurette where director Pete Docter discusses the process of 3D conversion: