Led by John Lasseter, Pixar Animation's creative team has proved its knack for bringing to big-screen life unexplored worlds that tap into youthful imaginations. Following the successes of "It's a Bug's Life" and "Toy Story," they have created a fascinating and funny land in "Monsters, Inc.," one that houses the creatures that children always fear to be living in the bedroom closet.
The new computer-animated extravaganza relies on the intriguing and well-developed premise that on the other side of the closet door are monsters whose only reason for scaring people is to gather the screams and re-use them as an energy source. In fact, screams are so important to the creatures' existence that a special company, Monsters, Inc., employs an elite force of Kid Scarers.
The top scarer is James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), a lumbering furry blue monster with purple spots. A ruthless competitor by day, racking up all the scare points he can, "Sulley" is actually a lovable and sentimental fellow. Working alongside him is scare assistant Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a green, one-eyed, wise-cracking sidekick who is equally endearing. Together the two form the monster version of "Toy Story"'s Woody and Buzz. Crystal is at his comedic best, and though not as instantly endearing as Tom Hanks' Woody, his pairing with Goodman nevertheless produces one of the year's best buddy films.
Rounding out the cast are company CEO Henry Water-noose (James Coburn), a crablike beast fond of Sulley because of all the scares he generates, and Randall (Steve Buscemi), a shifty chameleon and Sulley's chief competitor.
For this venture, executive producer Lasseter handed over the directing and writing reigns to Pixar veteran Pete Docter, who is clearly up to the task. The story is intriguing and well-developed; especially ingenious is the fact that monsters are actually afraid of children and venture into their world simply because it's their job. The monsters are seen as heroes on par with astronauts because they brave the frightening world beyond the closet door and risk toxic contamination if contact is made with so much as a child's sock. So when a little girl is accidentally transported into the monster's world, it is the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown and could mean the end of Sulley's and Mike's career.
While other voices are memorable, Buscemi, as Sulley's nemesis, is rather bland. His forgettable work contributes to a sense that, once the plot details have been established, the film drifts and becomes more convoluted than its Pixar predecessors.
Though not as groundbreaking or well conceived as "Toy Story," the new "Monsters, Inc.," dazzles with humor and spectacular visuals that are worlds apart from Shrek and Atlantis.