Kids aren’t the only ones who have been coiled like windup gewgaws waiting for the release of Monsters, Inc. Adults whose inner children still burble about previous field trips to Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2 have also been looking forward to it, knowing that no matter what happens, the monsters will look really, really terrific. Everything from Pixar Animation Studios, the snazzy, cutting-edge computer animation outfit, looks really, really terrific, and unspools with a liberated, heppest-moms-and-dads-on-the-block iconoclasm. And yes, indeed, Monsters, Inc. has got that swing, that zippity, multilevel awareness of kids’-eye sensibilities and adult-pitched humor.
That said, kids and adults might agree: This light, cute bedtime story about the secret life of the monsters in every kid’s closet feels a teensy bit…earthbound. The great punchline in the upside-down fable is that monsters live in their own world. Monstropolis is a beautifully energy-efficient place powered by the screams of children, shrieks captured by elite Scarers each night. But even the biggest scream-generating champ of all, James P. (“Sulley”) Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), and his one-eyed, lime green assistant and best friend, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal, reining in the borscht-thick shtick), are spooked out of their gourds by contamination from contact with actual children or their effluvia.
When a teeny-weeny kid’s sock attaches itself to the fur of a great big monster, the frantic decontamination that follows is both hilarious and also (in these parlous postal times) haunting. And when an actual kid, an adorable little girl nicknamed Boo, wanders out of her bedroom and attaches herself to Sulley, the entire monster world is thrown into grave disarray.
The movie doesn’t soar; it does, however, glide and occasionally giggle — the difference, perhaps, between the open-air playfulness of Toy Story director John Lasseter and the more factory-sealed moves of Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter, a Lasseter protégé. Technology has advanced since Toy Story‘s debut six years ago so that every hair on Sulley’s furry blue-and-green body ruffles in the air, and Boo’s every toddler gesture is lovingly captured. There’s also some very nice camouflage action demonstrated by Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), a slithery reptilian creep who challenges Sulley for terror championship in a Disney-style showdown between good and evil among the monster population.
But, oh, you know how it is: Magic isn’t about technology, no matter how whizzy the tech is; it’s about story, style, the very air a hairy, blue-and-green creature breathes. The movie pants and lags a bit in the middle — yes, yes, we get it, the only thing to fear is fear itself. But then, in the finale, it roars alive in a giddy chase during which Sulley, Mike, and Boo find themselves up against Randall, facing hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of bedroom closet doors. Such a scream! Only an ogre would complain.