Did you ever wonder what the monsters in the closet did when they weren't scaring the bejesus out of little kids too young to know any better? Well, according to "Monsters, Inc.", the new computer-animated feature from Pixar (the folks who brought the "Toy Story" movies to life), they live in Monstropolis, a thriving metropolis of the most misshapen monstrosities to ever walk the Earth. However, there are many similarities between life in Monstropolis and any large bustling human city, including its share of overprice coffee joints, sushi restaurants... and a worsening energy crisis. Instead of burning fossil fuels or relying on nuclear power generation, Monstropolis is powered by the screams of children, which are meticulously captured and stored by an assembly line of 'professional scarers' at the local utility, Monsters, Inc. Unfortunately, with violence in the media and a glut of "Scream"-type movies, kids are becoming harder and harder to scare, which may potentially lead to rolling blackouts.
But this eventuality does not deter the two model employees of the power utility, veterans James 'Sully' Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman of "One Night at McCool's") and his one-eyed monster partner Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal seen recently in "America's Sweethearts")-- James goes into the childrens' bedrooms to scare them out of their wits, while Mike stays behind to extract the screams and handle all the paperwork. And though Monsters, Inc. CEO Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn of "Payback") is much relieved by the continuing efforts of his 'scream team', some others do not share such enthusiasm, particularly the chameleon-like Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, who was heard in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"), the company's number two scarer who will do anything to beat Sully's record...
... which he does. Unfortunately, while secretly working after-hours, the unthinkable happens-- a human child, 'Boo' (voiced by Mary Gibbs), crosses the closet barrier and into the monster world. Though young children are scared of monsters in their closet, the truth is that the monsters are even more afraid of the children, and it is generally believed in Monstropolis that even the slightest touch from a human child, or even coming into contact with their clothing, can be deadly. Unfortunately, Boo winds up in the company of Sully and Mike, who then must figure out what to do with this child, while avoiding the hazmat-like teams of the Child Detection Agency, who are responsible for identifying and containing human contamination.
If you loved "Toy Story", "Toy Story 2", and "A Bug's Life", then you'll also love "Monsters, Inc.", as it contains the same great characters, snappy pacing, and great humor that you would expect from Pixar and Walt Disney. And like most modern-day animated films, the humor is broad enough to please both kids and their parents-- while the little ones will squeal over the scene-stealing antics of Boo or the physical comedy indignities that Mike must endure, adults will get a kick out of the jabs at contemporary culture (the slogan of Monsters, Inc. is "We scare. Because we care.") and the obscure references that abound in the film (such as a restaurant named 'Harry Hausen's", after the special effects pioneer, or the film's opening that is evocative of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"). In addition, the sophistication of the computer animation has come a long way since 1995's "Toy Story". Gone is the artificial sheen and smooth surfaces usually associated with CGI, and in its stead are rich textures that make "Monsters, Inc." look more like the product of Claymation than computer animation.
Voice talent is also top-tier, with Goodman and Crystal playing well off each other as two diametrically-opposed coworkers and roommates, Coburn as the company's no-nonsense CEO, Buscemi as the oily Randall, and Gibbs' babytalk gibberish is a delight to the ears. Also on hand are Jennifer Tilly ("Liar Liar") as Mike's Medusa-like girlfriend, Frank Oz (who provides the voice for Yoda in the "Star Wars" movies) as Randall's nerdy sidekick, and John Ratzenberger ("Toy Story 2") as a snowcone-loving Abominable Snowman.
Pixar certainly does it again with "Monsters, Inc.", creating pure movie magic that even trumps Dreamworks' effort from earlier this year, "Shrek". With its witty storytelling, cheery execution, and seamless animation, it doesn't take long for "Monsters, Inc." to pull you in and make you forget that it is only a movie, albeit a great one.