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Monsters, Inc. back to product details

Parallel Parallel Universes
written by dwhudson August 29, 2002 - 1:56 PM PDT
8 out of 8 members found this review helpful
Let's start with the parallels between Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story. We might as well because that's where it seems the Pixar/Disney team started. What made Toy Story work so darn well, they must have asked themselves; what made it take off at the box office to, you know, infinity and beyond. In a way that A Bug's Life didn't. For all the clever dialogue and characterization and what was at the time the novelty of the Pixar look, at bottom, the story had to click, and it had to click all around the world. The premise is based on a universal fantasy: every kid wonders about the lives his/her toys lead when s/he's away and every adult remembers wondering.

Ok, so what's another universal fantasy. The monster behind the door! Of course, that's a universal fear, and there's our first departure from the Toy Story formula. Monsters, Inc. is not scary, of course. Thrilling at times, but not scary; the scare factor is actually played down, almost for laughs, sort of a healthy service the movie provides for parents: See how silly the whole idea is, dear? The movie even takes this a step further by reassuring the kids that monsters, like snakes and spiders, are far more scared of you than you are of them.

So both movies have parallel worlds bumping into each other, the real and the imaginary, but the populations of the two imaginary worlds have very different missions: toys aim to make kids happy, monsters aim to scare them. Monsters, Inc., y'see, is basically a giant electric company that powers the entire alternate universe. And the source of that power? Kids' screams.

But you can practically hear the wheels grinding in the writers' heads (two of the writers served on the teams for both movies, and one of them, Peter Doctor, co-directed Monsters, Inc.): these monsters have to be as cute and cuddly as possible; no one can actually get hurt; in general, we have to back-peddle the threat -- way back. This is probably why Monsters, Inc. is far less dramatically engaging than Toy Story.

There are other reasons: Woody and Buzz and crew live right under Andy's nose. His room is their room. When it's adventure time, they roam the universally recognized spaces of a well-to-do American suburb; the gas station, the pizza place, etc. A kid tucked away on the umpteenth floor of a high-rise apartment building in Moscow, a kid on a sheep farm in New Zealand, whatever, these kids know these spaces like the back of their hands.

The monsters, though, live and work on some other side. The main entrance hall of Monsters, Inc. itself actually reminded me of the airport-like customs area of Men in Black. And since they're monsters, there's not a whole lot the writers can do with them, oddly enough. They're all equally wacky-looking. One eye, three eyes, loads of legs, no legs, what's the difference, really?

With toys, though, you can have a ball. Take a familiar object, like an Etch-a-Sketch and give it a mind of its own: it can draw a map of where you need to go! Toy soldiers can repel down a stairway to eavesdrop on the goings on and relay what they hear via a cooperative walkie talkie, and so forth. Clever uses of everyday objects in familiar spaces. Monsters, Inc. has none of this to work with.

What it does have, though, in spades, is a potential for surrealism. Unfortunately, it has to be marketed to kids and can't really take that potential and run with it. There is a lot of work, though, with a very literalized version of the division between the real and imaginary worlds: the door -- played for comic and classically farcical effect late in the movie and with an awe-inspiring number of them in the chase sequence. But for all the imagination put into what might be behind them, the doors are never as threatening as even that door-to-another-world in the Twilight Zone credits.

None of this is to say that your kids won't like the movie. They will. It's delightful, no question. But don't expect them to cherish it and beg to see it again and again like they did with Toy Story. On the other hand, they might beg to see the extras here: they are great.


(Average 7.42)
383 Votes
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