Pixar must be due to slip up soon. Companies rarely rack up critical and commercial hits like Toy Story, A Bug's Life and the law-of-diminishing-returns-shattering Toy Story 2 without the cinema gods arranging some major disaster for them. There just has to be a ticking bomb nestled in their upcoming schedule somewhere. This ain't it, though. Monsters, Inc isn't just good - - it's fantastic.
Sharp, clever, frighteningly funny and 24-carat feelgood, this is the story of the boogeymen who creep out of the cupboard every night to scare rugrats silly. A kiddiwink nightmare come true? Umm, not really, because these monsters don't really mean any harm - - they're just doing their job...
Every day, green one-eyed Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and purple-and-blue-spotted furball Sulley (John Candy) go to work at scare factory Monsters, Inc. Sulley crosses over from Monstropolis into the world of humans and puts the frighteners on some poor little boy or girl. Meanwhile Mike bottles their screams and uses them to provide power for the monster world's every need. It's nothing personal - - it's just clock-punching employment. Or it is until a little girl they christen Boo (Mary Gibbs) manages to cross over to Mike and Sulley's dimension.
If the monster world authorities find her, the boys are going to be out of a job and Boo's going to be detoxed out of existence since monsters are convinced that kids are poisonous. Will Mike and Sulley get Boo safely back to her own world? Can Monstropolis survive without the power of kiddie screams? What is evil Monsters, Inc employee Randall (Steve Buscemi) up to? And is Mike ever going to successfully date medusa-haired Monsters Inc receptionist Celia (Jennifer Tilly)?
Flawlessly animated, Monsters, Inc glows with loving care and attention, but talking about the quality of the CG work is akin to watching The Godfather and rambling on about how all those flickering single images successfully create the illusion of movement. It's Pixar's storytelling and not the technology that makes their films fly.
Goodman's deep rumbling tones turn Sulley into the most huggable of huge, furry critters - - his slow-burn realisation that Boo may not be the lethal killing machine he's always believed human kids to be is simply joyous. And while Sulley's the heart, Crystal's furiously ad-libbing Mike is the lippy, fast-talking brain, pumping out one-liners to compliment the sight gags and slapstick. It's the classic buddy movie combo of big 'n' loveable and small 'n' sarky.
But Monsters, Inc is much more than just a framework to hang jokes on. The humour works as part of a thumpingly good narrative that finds time to slot in a truly creepy villain, some serious tension and two belting action sequences. Not to mention a big soppy ending that sends you out into the night with the warmest of hearts.
It's not quite up to Toy Story 2, but it doesn't fall that far short. Monsters, Inc stakes an early claim to this year's family entertainment crown - - it'll take something truly spectacular to beat it.