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Monsters, Inc.

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Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) see the opening weekend receipts.

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They're big, they're hairy and they're coming out to scare the pants off of you. No, it's not the sequel to "The Full Monty," but rather "Monsters, Inc." (IMDb listing) the latest box-office juggernaut from Pixar and Walt Disney Studios.

Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) are two monsters employed at Monsters, Inc. This giant corporation, run by Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn), sends beasts of imagination into children's bedrooms to collect screams, which power the monster city. James is the top scarer of the company, though waiting in the wings is the nefarious Randall (Steve Buscemi), a slimy creature that is insanely jealous of James' success. During one late night at work, James accidentally allows a little human girl to pass through one of the magical bedroom doors separating the monster and human worlds. Fearing expulsion from the company, James and Mike scramble to find a way to get the girl back into her bedroom and stop Randall from achieving his evil plans for Monsters, Inc.

It may be an unpopular opinion, but I would love to think of "Monsters, Inc." as a sort of apology for the horrifically overrated "Toy Story 2." Losing the noise and the velocity in their animation this time out, Pixar tries to craft something more syrupy and funny than the obscenely popular sequel from 1999. And for the most part, I think they've succeeded. "Monsters, Inc." is a friendly, sweeter Pixar product than I expected. It provides lighter entertainment than the typical Pixar film, and even though you would somewhat expect it, the character relationships are more sophisticated than usual. This is a far cry from the obnoxious ADD theatrics of "Toy Story 2," and I really like the change.

And while the film does entertain and occasionally charm, it is bound rather hopelessly to the archetype Pixar storyline the studio has mandated for each of its blockbusters. You know the drill: comedy -> story -> comedy -> story -> moral -> climax -> comedy. You could set your watch to this type of story structure. While you cannot argue the results (the billions of dollars in revenue should be enough to convince), "Monsters, Inc." has that stale feeling of one more time around the maypole for Pixar. All the staples of a Pixar production are here, from the gently subversive comedy to the bigger than life climax. The cute and cuddly characters to the sure-to-be-nominated end credit theme song. There are no surprises to "Monsters, Inc." and for a company that prides itself on innovation and creativity, they're starting to grow moss around their trunk.

Though storywise, they seem to be lacking a bit, Pixar is making leaps in technology. "Monsters, Inc." is their best looking film to date, with the animation team taking on complicated hairy beasts and—in one sequence—luxurious snowscapes that would make Rankin/Bass rage with jealously. The look of these pictures is slowly becoming pristine—another blow to traditional animation.

As the two monsters of the title, Billy Crystal and John Goodman make a wonderful team. While Crystal is basically doing a thinly disguised version of his typical schtick (toned down for the kids, mind you), it is Goodman who just may be doing his career's best work. As the professional frightener, but loving baby-sitter, Goodman runs through the rainbow of emotions that almost all of his live-action roles would never let him do. Whereas Crystal is the funny bone of the picture, Goodman is the heart, and he fills it with unexpected depth and charm.

This is a customary chapter in the Pixar filmography, however it is one that enchants and offers a brief reprieve from the frenetic malarkey that normally passes for family entertainment.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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