As with the best storytellers, the creators of Monsters Inc. take a fresh look at a very familiar theme: the monster in the closet. Here, the monsters are real, but they're not evil or mean - they scare children to capture the energy in their screams, which powers the monster city.
And just as children fear monsters, the monsters are terrified of kids. "There's nothing more toxic than a human child," warns Henry J. Waternoose, owner of the scream factory Monsters Inc.
Even a tiny child's sock that passes into monster-land is considered a deadly danger. Monsters from the Child Detection Agency immediately swoop in from helicopters and tanks, wearing bio-hazard suits, to remove and destroy the offending item of clothing.
The world the filmmakers create is wholly original and dripping with rich detail. The movie will delight children and adults alike. John Goodman and Billy Crystal are a terrific comedic team as James P. Sullivan, a turquoise-furred giant, and Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed green imp whose antics and one-liners keep the audience in stitches.
Sulley and Mike, as they're known, punch a clock at the scream factory, where Sulley is the acknowledged champion scarer. Life is strangely familiar in the monster world: pedestrians on the city streets follow "Stalk" and "Don't Stalk" signs and they read the tabloid newspaper "The Glob". Naturally, there are some differences -- as a monster, Mike uses odorant to smell good on a big date.
Despite the looming scream shortage (kids are harder to frighten than ever), Sulley and Mike are rolling along as usual until the day a small girl (Mary Gibbs) invades the monster world through her closet door. It's funny to see the huge Sulley clumsily try to avoid touching the tiny girl as she coos and giggles (she thinks he's her kitty).
Sulley slowly begins to realize that the child isn't dangerous, but rather sweet, and nicknames her Boo. The meat of the story involves Sulley, and a reluctant Mike, trying to return Boo to her home while avoiding detection by the CDA, Waternoose or Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi at his smarmy best), a sneaky chameleon who wants to top Sulley's scream record.
Pixar Studio's animation is top-drawer as usual, with the three-dimensional feel of Shrek and Toy Story. The animators have a lot of fun making up outlandish monsters - they've got eyes everywhere and combine strange parts of different real animals. Mike's girlfriend Celia (Jennifer Tilly in her staple sex-kitten role) has snakes for hair whose little faces kiss or hiss depending on her mood.
The film is truly a triumph. It taps into children's deepest fears, and creates some genuinely bad guys, while also humanizing their demons. The action is well paced and the voices are perfectly cast - Goodman even sounds furry! A clever ending manages to fit with the monster-world's rules while letting Mike and Sulley remain true to the life wisdom they gain.