Thursday, 6 May 2010

Kids these days. They just don't get scared like they used to.

No 343 - Monsters Inc
Director - Pete Docter (Co Director David Silverman)

I am a very vocal fan of Pixar and yet I feel I had criminally neglected this film. The last time I saw it was at the cinema. 9 years ago (cripes). So I sat down to watch it and I loved it. Probably loved it more now then I did then. - Now I admire not only the cracking story (which I'll discuss below) but also the amazing visuals. What I like about Pixar is that they constantly challenge themselves. Whether it is with the story telling side (can they make a silent movie about a lovable robot) or on the animation side of things. In the same way that Finding Nemo was a challenge to animate water, or A Bug's Life was about organic shapes - here the challenge was Fur. And in the example of Sulley they manage it beautifully. I'll chat about the characters later.

Lets begin with the story.

It continues the Pixar tradition of being all about story telling and cracking central concepts. This time it we have a wonderful concept (Monster's collect screams from children in order to power their world) and a fabulous story structure. The fact that a 'toxic' child escapes into the the Monster World means that we have the set up for a classic paranoid thriller as two friends discover an evil scheme, but it also gives us something else. There is a perverse humour in seeing the workman ordinariness of the Monster world, and in seeing the basic structure of a horror film (monster terrorises children or teens or sexy 20 somethings) reversed with the monster's traumatised by an adorable child.

Boo is cute. And importantly she is Pixar's first significant human character (Andy and Sid may be important to plots but they're not physically all that present in the films). She is also an incredibly realistic child character. Children in films are notoriously difficult, seeing as they usually end up a bit creepy and dead eyed. Yet, Boo is superb. She is full of joy and scampers around like a genuine mental child. The only other animated child I can think of who so well captures the essence of childhood is Mei in Totoro.
I heard a rumour that Boo's vocals were recorded by following a child around with a boom mic and getting her to react with situations to garner reactions (ie, a kitty would probably make a child cry kitty) - this keeps the conversation feeling fresh and realistic and keeps the dialogue upbeat. After all, it doesn't sound natural when you try and get a child to follow a script. Hilarious, but not normal. But sounds like a child, and when you factor in the excellent animation job done by Pixar (I wouldn't expect anything less) you get a character that feels real and you can see the way that she affects he reluctant custodians.

Lets talk about the titular monsters. This is probably the most exciting cast (for me) in a Pixar film. The cast even has tinges of Coen with the casting of the fabulous John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. Mix in Billy Crystal at his fast paced best and you have a really exciting and dynamic vocal cast with a crackling chemistry. But then Pixar always excel in the 'buddy movie' capacity. One, important voice I've missed out is the Pixar Mascot John Ratzenberger who returns as the friendliest and most polite Abominable Snowman ever. Though I worry about his snow cones.

All in all the film gives us a really enjoyable corporate conspiracy full of action and adventure and a terrifying invisible villain. The film's big reveal is hinted and evident throughout the entire film and allows a Disney-friendly happy ending.

It is just delightful good clean fun and it ends with that most Pixar of set ups. Fake bloopers and a Randy Newman song.

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