In the city of Monstropolis, James P. Sullivan (a furry hulk voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (a walking eyeball voiced by Billy Crystal) are on the fast track, rising stars in a field crucial to their city's survival. Goodman supplies the muscle while Crystal coordinates activities behind the scenes. Their business: energy production. Their raw material: the screams of frightened children. Harvesting scares by sneaking through closet doors into the human world, Goodman and his coworkers keep Monstropolis running, but their jobs do have professional hazards. Increasingly jaded human children have grown harder to scare. Worse yet, actual contact with children, the monsters believe, may lead to horrific infection. This setup is so clever that it almost wouldn't matter if Monsters, Inc., the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, didn't fully deliver on it, though it's not surprising when it does. Pixar's 1995 film Toy Story would have attracted attention even without winning characters and great storytelling to back up its technical innovations. By now, however, the novelty of Toy Story's computer-animation style has faded, particularly with so many other studios co-opting its innovations. From the start, Pixar made moviemaking as great a priority as image-making, so much so that its films' technical elements can now almost be taken for granted. It's impressive that the animators seem to have found a way to animate each strand of fur in Goodman's character's coat, but the attention to detail also fits in nicely with the film's overall scheme: Every aspect of the character, physically and emotionally, is similarly well-developed. Monsters, Inc. is the first Pixar film for which company brain John Lasseter hasn't served as a director or co-director, but he's left the shop in good hands. Co-directors Pete Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich fill the film with great gags—like a monster janitor who leaves his own trail of slime after he mops up—but also great poignancy. After a mishap on the job, the fully functional Mutt-and-Jeff team of Goodman and Crystal becomes the reluctant guardian of a small girl who accidentally crosses over into Monstropolis. Sounding and behaving like a real toddler, in one of the film's canniest gestures, she not only wreaks havoc in Goodman's world, but also so endears herself to him that she forces a professional crisis of conscience. Beneath the carefully rendered fur, Monsters, Inc. finds heart, which is Pixar's secret: Both the Terry Gilliam-worthy production design and the film's range of feeling are necessary to create, once again, a fully realized alternate universe.
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