Retrospective: 20th Anniversary of Monsters, Inc.

By Joan Amenn

Back when Pixar was still a relatively new up and coming animation studio, the plot of their fourth film being a “buddy movie” didn’t sound all that exciting. After all their first and third films had the same theme. But “Monsters Inc.” (2001) proved to be quite different from the rest and remains one of their best conceived and executed movies.

From its upbeat, jazzy opening credits to its Oscar winning closing song from Randy Newman, “Monsters, Inc.” is for kids and about kids. How they think, feel and love is represented in the adorable main character of Boo (Mary Gibbs). The monsters of the titular company focus on what scares kids, but the film also explores what can be scary to parents.

The monsters of the titular company focus on what scares kids, but the film also explores what can be scary to parents…The act of letting go can cause as many night terrors for a parent as any scaly beastie threatening their toddler’s dreams

The clever idea of closet doors being points of entry for monsters who scare kids at night can also be seen as a metaphor for what can be frightening to their parents. Kids who come through doors when little can leave as adults in the same way. The act of letting go can cause as many night terrors for a parent as any scaly beastie threatening their toddler’s dreams. The genius of Pixar is finding humor in what scares us.

Seen through Boo’s eyes, the most frightening monster of all Monstropolis is nothing but a big “Kitty.” This comes as a bit of a shock to James P. Sullivan, aka “Sully” (John Goodman) who is considered something of a hero to his co-workers. Pixar ingeniously shows Sully and all his fellow monsters being terrified of the kids they scare. This gives little ones something to laugh about on the big screen but also gives them a hint that maybe what they find intimidating isn’t all that big a deal. Thankfully, this is done in a subtle way, mostly through Boo’s devotion to her big, hairy friend Sully and his growing fondness for her in return.

The bond between the little girl and her monster pal is still a surprisingly touching story, even twenty years later. Boo brings out a gentleness in Sully he never valued in himself before. Sully teaches Boo that the unknown of the dark can hold surprises that aren’t always bad or terrifying. Sometimes we make friends by stepping through a door to a new place. Sweet without being overly saccharine thanks in large part to the incredible comedic talents of Goodman and his sidekick Billy Crystal as the singularly optic Mike Wazowski, “Monsters Inc.” is a must see for anyone who loves animation. Pixar has created many memorable characters but few are as fully developed and perfectly matched as Sully and Mike. They still scare because they care.

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