While it’s not yet something you can set your watch by, November has become Disney’s month of choice to release their Pixar fantasies, visionary blends of cutting-edge digital animation and classic family values. “”Toy Story”” started this successful run in 1995, followed by its blockbuster sequel in 1999. We don’t exactly expect these films, but they do tend to arrive at the ideal time, providing a pleasant respite from the frantic holiday schedule.
By now, audiences know what they’re getting out of a Pixar production. The studio’s original “”Toy Story”” deftly explored the insecurities of toy cowboy Woody when challenged by the bigger, better Buzz Lightyear, while the film’s sequel went on to tailor an exciting adventure around Buzz and Woody’s unique friendship. But in their latest, “”Monsters, Inc.,”” the Pixar team allows their imaginations to soar to infinity and beyond, creating new worlds populated with amazing and imaginative beings. That world is called Monstropolis, and it’s only accessible through the closets of little children around the globe. That monsters lurk in kids’ closets is common knowledge. What we weren’t aware of was Monstropolis’ reliance on the screams of these children as a power source, and that the hideous employees of Monsters, Incorporated, were responsible for soliciting these screams on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, desensitized kids don’t scare as easily as they used to, leading to Monstropolis’ current power drought. Two monsters in particular, though, are doing their part. The sarcastic and spherical green glob Mike Waznowski (voice of Billy Crystal), and his fuzzy bear of a friend, James “”Sulley”” Sullivan (voice of John Goodman), have earned a reputation as the factory’s top scarers. The duo is well on their way to breaking the company’s all-time “”scare”” record, in fact, until one fateful evening, when Sulley stumbles upon a devious scheme hatched by a rival monster, the chameleonesque Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi). Before he knows it, Sulley lets a little girl into the monsters’ world, a fatal mistake that could dismantle Monsters, Inc. and plunge Monstropolis further into its crippling energy crisis.With each new feature, the Pixar animators vastly improve the look of their characters and the worlds they inhabit. “”Monsters, Inc.”” boasts more exotic creatures than the cantina in “”Star Wars,”” and the animators’ attention to detail, on Sulley in particular, truly amazes me. Close ups of Sulley’s purple mane reveal a shag carpet-type rug of body hair that begs to be hugged. For some reason, though, these animators can devise a contact lens that Mike wears on his giant eye, but they can’t make the film’s little girl look more human. Perhaps these guys need to spend a little more time in the real world.””Monsters Inc.”” proves the Pixar team can think outside of the box. For all of its creative concepts, though, the plot still relies too heavily on generic characterizations and Disney’s time-tested formulas. Randall bears all the qualities of a sub-standard Disney villain, cut from the cloth of an Ursula, Jafar or the bounty hunter from “”Tarzan.”” And while Mike was 75% eyeball, he never stopped being Billy Crystal, a fact both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were able to disguise in the “”Toy Story”” films. Only Goodman’s Sulley is given the chance to grow as a character, parlaying his paternal yearnings for the stowaway girl into an endearing storyline.With a trustworthy formula and pandering comic relief, “”Monsters, Inc.”” is more a Disney flick than a Pixar production. Rank it alongside commendable family favorites like “”Tarzan,”” “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame”” or “”Aladdin.”” But the Pixar moniker led me to believe we were in for something a little more special. Hoping for “”Toy Story,”” I was disappointed, but certainly not disappointed enough to overlook the film’s obvious strengths and widespread audience appeal.Final Grade: B+By Sean O’ConnellNov. 2, 2001