The animation is better than the real thing, and the detail goes right down to the snot. This is MONSTERS, INC and it’s driven by scream-power. Words: James Smart
boy lies still. His eyes catch on
something moving in the half-light. It’s
the arm of his jumper hanging out of his wardrobe. He settles back down. Then out rushes a horriﬁc. unnatural shape, mouth agape and tentacles flapping. ‘Aaargh!’ screams the boy. his face contorted in horror. ‘Aaarghl‘ screams the monster in panic, before tripping up on a ball and landing bottom-down on a pile of tacks.
The bedcovers lift to reveal the boy’s mechanical lower half and the camera pans back to reveal the studio in which recruits to Monsters, lnc‘s scare programme are being trained. The monster shuffles back to his seat, embarrassed. It’s an uproarious. playful opening to what is a movie that hits you with humour while it bewitches you with animation.
The film‘s success isn’t all that surprising when you consider its predecessors. The first three major collaborations between Disney and Californian animation studio Pixar were Toy Story. Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life. box office smashes all. John Lasseter. who directed all three. is in London to promote Monsters, Inc. which he produced. He has reasons to be cheerful. The Academy Awards committee has announced a new category (the first since 1981) for animated features and his new movie is certain to be nominated. ‘We‘re very, very excited with the Oscar category,’ he says. ‘From our standpoint. it shows that enough films are getting made to warrant that separate award. There were so many sceptics when we were making Toy Story. but so much of what is going on now is a product of what we did with that film.’
Monsters. Inc is set in Monstropolis, a city populated by monsters and powered by the screams of frightened children. The number one scarer is Sulley (John Goodman), a large blue ogre with a sweet personality. He’s an expert at leaping from half-lit cupboards with a blood- curdling growl, freaking out the kids and keeping the city moving. When he accidentally takes the inquisitive Boo back from our world to Monstropolis. the town is thrown into a state of panic and his rival Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) is determined to take advantage. Sulley needs all his ingenuity — and a fair bit of help from his one-eyed scare assistant Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) — to save his hide. Along the way. he uncovers a trail of corruption that leads him to the profit-driven core of Monstropolis.
The movie looks simply amazing. filled with rich background detail and characters that look and feel more alive than many of Hollywood‘s most hyped megastars. Sulley‘s hairy coat alone includes almost 3 million individual hairs. Even the humans (a bit of a let-down in both Toy Story
‘I used to do flip drawings in the corner of my math book;essenﬁa"y we’re doing the same thing here”
movies) fit snugly into Pixar's fantastic world. For Lasseter, some of the inspiration came from his own home. ‘We had to caricature to get to the essence of what a kid is.’ he says. ‘We went right down to the snot when she cries: I noticed that my daughter does that when she cries, so we went back and put it in. We wanted to make her realistic so we thought we‘d tell the truth. which involves putting the bad in as well as the good.’
According to the cheerfully geeky director Pete Docter, the animation process has involved major technological leaps. ‘Every year or so computers double in speed.‘ he says, ‘which means we can work much more quickly. But instead of that we end up thinking: “Oh. good. we can now do this and that.” and so the time it takes to render everything goes up again.‘
It has been a lifelong obsession. ‘I loved The Muppet Show.’ he says, ‘and I used to do fiip drawings in the corner of my math book when we were supposed to be studying. So I spent my time making these things move and thinking that they were really amazing. Essentially we‘re doing the same thing here. but with a multi- million dollar industry. To me that is magic.’
It’s also big business. The film was a huge hit in the US when it was released at the start of November. making half of its $1 15m budget in the first weekend. Significantly. 40% of audiences were adults without children. You could argue that such a ratio points to an escapist impulse on the part of the American public. a desire to retreat into the most unreal school of filmrnaking rather than engage with the unsettling realities of the ‘war on terrorism‘. Very few cartoons are apolitical (think of the hyper-analysed Sirnpsons or Raymond Briggs’s nuclear fable When The Wind Blows). but Monsters“. Inc is a film to warm the cockles. not trouble the mind.
Then again. with mainstream cinema resolving its conflicts through big explosions and gung ho philosophy. at movie whose main message is that anyone has feelings no matter how different they look is perhaps not such a bad thing. And while nothing like as parodic as the gleeful Shr'ek. as its introductory sequence shows. Monster‘s. [no is still one of the year's more self-aware films. How it performs at the Oscars remains to be seen; the new animated- picture category could work against the movies it seeks to promote if it makes them less likely to pick up nominations in the main categories.
Still. whether the judges love it or snub it. Monsters. Inc is sure to repeat its US success on this side of the Atlantic. The technology has improved since the early days of cautoon. but the exuberance is still there in spades. The film itself is nostalgic for a lost age — Monstropolis. with its avuncular CEO and old-style diners has a distinct 50s vibe — and. like Toy Story. it has a genuine affection for the days when a bedroom could be mysterious. scary and strangely thrilling. Monster's, Im‘ makes the cinema feel like a pretty exciting place too. Just remember to watch the shadows . . .
Monsters, Inc, general release from Fri 8 Feb. See review.
31 Jan—14 Feb 2002 THE LIST 1 1