Mike (voice of Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voice of John Goodman) in "Monsters, Inc."
Pixar steps up to the plate and hits one out of the park, with a fourth animated effort that's every bit as constructively clever as it is technologically brilliant.
Remember the Boogie Man who hid in your closet at night, poised to scare you to death as soon as the lights went out? In the imaginations of the Pixar folks, the monster world is fueled by the energy that flows from a child's frightened scream. Monsters, Incorporated (We Scare Because We Care) sends their monstrous employees into unsuspecting children's homes, harnessing that scary-scream energy into functional fuel that lights and heats their spaces. But 21st-century little people are a savvy lot who aren't easy to spook. Consequently, the monster world is suffering an energy crisis.
Leading the charge as Number One scream producer is Sulley (voice of John Goodman), a big lovable lunk blessed with an immensely wicked fear factor. Hot on his competitive heels is slimy, shape-shifting Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi), a slithery lounge-lizard of a worker who'll go to immoral lengths to become Numero Uno. Fast-talking Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) is Sulley's handler -- looking out for his client's interests while relentlessly trying to seduce the Medusa-like Celia (voice of Jennifer Tilly).
Children and their playthings are the anthrax of the monster world, their toys and presence a dangerous contaminant to creature fur and sensitive beastly psyches. When precocious toddler Boo (voice of Mary Gibbs) escapes from her room and into the Monsters, Inc. factory, the child security breach throws the struggling corporation into a mad frenzy. Code Red Priority: Find the tiny terror, and send her unhygienic booty back to its nursery.
There's not a ripple of a glitch in this smoothly animated classic. The colors are pure, the textures seem tactile and the voice-to-character collaborations are flawless. The story, full of punchy one-liners and well-timed inside jokes, is a delightful age equalizer. Boo, a fetching, eat-her-with-a-spoon little one, lends an unexpected sweetness with her googly charm and subtly burgeoning friendship with Scully. Peripheral characters are wonderfully droll and beautifully illustrated, akin to the crazy, eclectic bar hoppers of the original "Star Wars". Energetic climax rolls on a touch too long -- the conclusion lacks the snappy quality of the rest of the film. The opening short, "For the Birds," is a marvel of cartoon humor.
Rated G for great family fare. 1 hour, 32 minutes.
- Jeanne Aufmuth