My Favorite Human Story Is About Monsters
Monsters, Inc. came out in 2001. A few weeks post 9/11, the same year as the first Harry Potter movie. According to IMDB, it grossed the highest ticket sales for an animated feature to the date of its release.
I don't know anyone who hasn't seen it. I don't know anyone who doesn't like it. In an era where no one has seen the same things and no one can agree on liking even a single thing... that's already a feat.
I rewatched it for the first time in probably a few years, last night, with my Irish/German Floridian boyfriend and my Filipino-Canadian brother from a Florida mother. Since moving to LA and slowly learning some of the nuances of the film arts, I've been watching both new and old movies with different eyes. I can see all the choices and team reps who had to work 14 hour days. I can wrap my mind around the budgets. I can picture the script or the pitch meeting for it. I can clock the good work of a casting director like the work of a professional chemist. I can pick up on visual styles and voiceover takes. I notice lighting and color choices and endlessly nerd out about them.
Monsters, Inc. is a perfect movie. Really think about it though.
It's a movie about fear, and our relationship to fear, but it makes you feel warm, safe, and happy while you learn how to cope and surpass fear.
There is not one overlooked choice in this film.
Every millisecond of sound is crisp, well-recorded AND well-mixed. Nothing ever feels out of place. The dialogue matches the visuals expertly. The music is effortlessly intricate: smooth jazz with a snazzy, joyful rhythm. Percussion amplifies the jokes and the tension in the plot, which eases you into the scarier parts of the story by making them feel badass.
The color palette for every. single. frame. is utterly satisfying. Corals, magentas, teals, and that baby neon Kool-aid blue fill out the insane fine details of hairs and eyes and body shapes.
The subtle movement of every character is so beautifully portrayed alongside the story and soundscape. Mike's dance in 'Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me'--understated but incredibly accurate. Sully's epic push ups or slides around slippery corners--they will live forever in our memory because they're so artfully and satisfyingly made. Every frame of Sully took 11-12 hours to first render because of the hair detail. Every frame.
It's mind boggling and unquestioningly worth it.
And Boo. The most loved and famous Pixar character isn't a toy, a fish, a bug, or a car. She's a human kid in a plain pink smock with a big, brave message for the world. Voiced by a 2-and-a-half year old (they basically put Mary Gibbs in a studio and recorded her while she played with stuff--she was too young to sit still and deliver lines), Boo is the bravest and smartest homie of the whole crew. She's the most creative communicator. She has the most undaunted and accepting concept of love, and understandably, her big, clear emotional outbursts carry the keys to rebuild an entire society. I mean, could it get any better than the key to a happier future lies in a harmless, ethnically ambiguous girl with tiny pigtails? I doubt it, honestly.
I've seen the movie maybe a dozen times. Watching it almost 20 years after its initial release, having been an adult for well over a decade, I see so many tiny, laborious details that serve such an important life lesson. All through the movie, the writers and animators and directors are gently showing you real-life ways to cope with stress and strengthen your relationships. We see the imperfect but delicious camaraderie and collaboration between Sully and Mike, contrasted with Randall's strained relationship with his assistant, Fungus. A relationship based on trust even when their opinions differ, vs. a relationship based on fear and blind obedience. We see the nuanced roles and images of the 'protector' in Sully, and the giant responsibility he carries to keep the vulnerable (Boo) safe without coming off as scary to the very thing he seeks to protect. We see a poetic way to hammer home that joy is much more powerful than fear. 10 times more powerful, in fact, and that if we dare to venture out of our fear-driven ways, life could be a lot easier and less cutthroat. We see the complexity of Mr. Waternoose, who is so driven by self-interest that manipulation is his only skill, and empathy, a much more valuable gift, is lost on him...
And we see monsters: all different animated incarnations of our worst fears, made beautiful and approachable and even endearing. We see a lot of potentially freaky things and are given an opportunity to see them as harmless, even funny. We're taken on a trip through Pixar's vast imagination and desire to make good.
We never once feel rushed or like we're getting anything extraneous. The story is flawless, the writing is perhaps my favorite piece of written anything. The performances are superb. And the story holds up, today, yes, even in our 'cursed' 2020, the most fearful year of so many of our lives. Our monsters are an oafish, orange Waternoose, an invisible, shape shifting virus (Randall?!), and scarcity itself. We're afraid of not having rent and getting evicted, losing our jobs, and not having enough toilet paper. We're filling up scream tanks but the solution isn't more screams or more fear. It's a different, more powerful tank.
Bravo, Monster's Inc. You are just as relevant right now as you ever were. And thank you for making Billy Crystal a one-eyed, pear colored orb with legs. Just, thank you.
Watch it! Then read the IMDB trivia for it.
* I mean, look at the colors and lighting in this frame alone. Masterpiece.