I'm not going to lie; when this first came along, I wasn't entirely interested. I thought it was playing too much on cuteness, and there wouldn't be much more to it. Upon finally watching it at a friend's house, I turned out to like it more than I thought I would. I've come back to it a handful of times over the years, it grows on me with every viewing. At first it was cute and fun, but nowadays I see it as one of the most creative Pixar films in the entire library. It's seldom that I go into a movie with low expectations only to have me come out of it saying "that was actually pretty awesome."
'Monsters, Inc.' could be considered a sort of electric company, located in the Monster World. A few monsters known as "Scarers" harvest "scream energy" by going through a system of doors that lead to closets of children all over the world. This "scream energy" is essentially their version of electricity - it's pretty much what makes their world run. However, a problem had arisen in recent years involving a world full of children who are much harder to scare than they used to be. This is largely due to various media violence and horror largely desensitizing them, and as a result, the Monster World experiences things like rolling brownouts. 'Monsters, Inc.' looks for a solution, but the best they really have is to just continue scaring, and hope things can get better.
The top Scarers are Sulley (John Goodman) and Randall (Steve Buscemi). Randall is a strong competitor for Sulley and his assistant Mike (Billy Crystal), but Sulley and Mike seem to always come out on top. Late one night, Sulley finds a door in the "ready" position. Curious, he opens the door to see if anyone is doing some late-night scaring, accidentally letting in a toddler who Sully would eventually name "Boo" (Mary Gibbs). Children are known as being extremely toxic in the monster world, so Sully and Mike soon find themselves having to hide her until they can get her back through her door. In the meantime, Randall is working on a project that could improve upon scream energy, and since Boo is running around the Monster world now, she could very well be in danger. Due to Sulley's newfound feelings towards Boo, the film becomes something of an "Escort Mission" - get her to her door while dodging Randall and whatever his plans may be.
While I wasn't exactly wrong about the movie playing a lot on cuteness, there's much more to it that I seemingly took for granted when I first saw this advertised. My appreciation for this movie largely goes towards the concept of the Monster world and how it runs. It's a simple enough idea when you think about it (and to be perfectly fair this is after 'Little Monsters'), but certain details about how things work are super creative. For example, I like the idea of the real world's mystery monsters (Bigfoot, Nessie, etc.) being monsters who have been banished from the Monster World. The example is done here with the Yeti (John Ratzenberger, now at four Pixar movies and counting). I also really enjoy the idea of the world's closet doors in a factory setting. Think something along the lines of a gigantic warehouse of dry cleaning racks, but holding closet doors instead of suits. In 'Little Monsters' it's just a super cheap looking set of boxes and stairs.
Funnily enough, another highlight of the film is the very thing I was worried would ruin it for me - Boo. Anyone who has ever seen this movie can agree that she is one of the most adorable characters ever created. Boo is the heart and soul of this movie, and despite the fact that she's just a little gibberish speaking toddler (voiced by a real one), Sully and Mike actually end up learning a whole lot about humans through her. You get a lot of good laughs from her, but you end up really feeling for her all the same. She's not JUST put there to be cute, as I thought she might be. She's put there to represent children in general. She finds solace in one monster while being terrified of another, and a lot of this is, as you may have guessed, about overcoming fears. The catch here is that the fear works in two different ways.
Kids can watch this and relate to Boo's experience in that she simply fears the monster in the closet. Generally speaking, a kid's first fear will probably have to do with something that goes bump in the night, leading them to imagine something under their bed or in their closet. That makes the film universally relatable to children. On the other hand, adults can see the fear the monster society has about Boo and the rest of human society and, I daresay, could stand to learn a thing or two as well. A part of what makes this such a solid movie is that even though it looks like a kid's movie on the surface, there's a certain depth to it that speaks to a more grown up audience as well. It's not just a movie you'd watch with your kids to have fun with, this one actually has something to say, and it does it pretty subtly as well.
My takeaway from this film is a positive message about understanding the unknown instead of fearing it, and it's timing or release was impeccable. This just so happened to be released the November after 9/11, so may very well have been seen as one of the first family movies trying to teach kids and adults alike that a society as a whole isn't something to be feared, but in some cases it doesn't hurt to be cautious. Sulley and Randall make the perfect characters for that message. This was the first of many Pixar film get an Oscar nomination for 'Best Animated Picture', and with good reason (beyond the fact that the category hasn't existed until now). It may have lost to 'Shrek', but the results must have been pretty damn close considering the underlying subject matter in "understanding" was very similar. Personally, I'd consider 'Monsters Inc' to be just a touch more timeless.
Writers and Directors