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IN SHORT: Take kids, if you've got access to 'em. [Rated G for all audiences. 85 minutes.]
The hardest thing to write, in all of movie-dom, is a family flick because you've got two audiences to write for. The first target are the little kidlets and the second is their parents. The hard part is writing stuff that will make the kidlets cackle while hiding in it stuff that will fly over their heads and tickle us grownups senseless. The folks at Pixar did it gangbusters with both Toy Story flicks. They leaned more towards the grownups with A Bug's Life and this year's offering goes too far in the other direction. Monsters, Inc. is a great flick to lug the kidlets to, though if they're still at the 3 year old "why?" stage, you'll be explaining most of the movie to them. As a grownup, we got a pair of huge laughs and enjoyed our 88 minutes in the dark, but it would have been better with kidlets in tow.
In much simpler words, if you're movie choice for the weekend comes down to Monsters Inc and almost any of the "serious" films hitting the big screens, well, you've seen that we haven't been all that thrilled with most of the fare that's available. Most of what we heartily reco'd is still in limited releases, so if any of those green fonted titles haven't made it to your area, there's no need to flip a coin. But if you don't have kids and have been leaning towards seeing a particular film with real humans on the screen, there you go. Long time readers know how hard that is for us to write; we're big toonheads. We love animation. But we just liked Monsters Inc. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Perhaps our monsters hid under the bed and we couldn't connect. We were only gently amused and that's not enough for us.
Taking its cue from the days when monsters "hid" in our closets, Monsters, Inc. is the story of the power plant/factory -- human screams power the otherwordly city of Monstropolis -- that employs all the boo guys. Blue furred, dual horned giant James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) has been monster of the month eleven months running, though the purple skinned lizard monster Randall (Steve Buscemi) has been working hard, that means cheating, in order that his visage should take its place on the wall of "employee of the month" pictures. He is ably assisted by Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), whose one eye keeps watch over the control panel that sends "Sully" into the world of human dreams via a specially constructed doorway. We learn early on that "leaving a door open is the biggest mistake a monster can make," which means it's just a matter of time. What comes through the door is a cute as a button toddler that Sully will nickname "Boo" (Mary Gibbs).
Let us repeat ourselves: Screams power the city of Monstropolis. Imagine what happens when a pre-verbal kidlet lets loose with laughs and cries. Add to that, the certain knowledge of all the monsters that the touch of a human would kill. Still, Sully thinks Boo is adorable and despite his best efforts to get her home there are the decontamination teams, not to mention the boss (James Coburn) to hide from. Mike's sub-story involves boo in a different way. The monster of his life is the lovely Celia (Jennifer Tilley) assistant to the boss.
That's the set up and it's all you need to know. Now let's talk 'toon tech. . .
We loved what Pixar has accomplished with what can only be called "fur technology" just as we loved what other companies have accomplished with water or skin. Here's the problem: we shouldn't be sitting in the dark thinking, "Gee, look at all the individual strands of fur!" We should be enthralled by a story and only occasionally derailed by noting things technical. Monsters Inc. runs a couple of jokes into the ground -- if you've seen the right television commercial you already know what I mean -- and doesn't take full advantage of the talents of both Goodman and Crystal. The two (there may have been more) clever background jokes -- the name of the local grocery store or the restaurant where Mike takes Celia -- were not enough to keep us otherwise occupied.
That being said, for those of you who decide we're out of our minds, we've got interviews with both Billy Crystal and John Goodman to mollify you and a whole page full of Monsters, Inc. wallpapers for your kids' computer desktops. . . We may be Cranky but we know when to offer up a payoff when we see one.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Monsters, Inc., he would have paid . . .
dateflick level 'cuz if you're still in dating stage, you won't mind if it doesn't work for you. Especially if you're in an old theater which still has a balcony <g>.
Monsters, Inc. is preceded by a short 'toon titled "For the Birds" which is another one joke wonder. It's a good joke -- wait for the feathers -- but accurately foreshadows the one and only one joke that surfaces way too many times in M.I.
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