MONSTERS, INC 3D
Directed by Pete Docter, David Silverman and Lee Unkrich
Rated G, 92 minutes
Cinemas everywhere (2D and 3D)
A lot of digital ink has flowed under the bridge since Monsters, Inc. in 2001. It was the fourth feature made at Pixar Studios, just outside San Francisco, and it returns now in 3D, an attempt to cash in on the bonanza suggested by the 3D re-release last year of The Lion King.
Most of the films re-engineered for 3D have failed to live up to expectations, suggesting the public is not so easily wooed. We are selective about what we want to see in 3D, partly because many of us - kids included - don't like watching films with those pesky glasses.
The other reason for the return of Monsters, Inc. is that a prequel is due out in the middle of this year and the folks at Disney, which now owns Pixar, want to introduce the characters to a new generation of kids. This is funny for a whole lot of reasons that require some explanation.
The first is that Monsters, Inc. can be read as a film about Disney. In 1996, when the idea for Monsters, Inc. was born, Pixar and Disney were both partners and rivals. Disney had, in effect, saved Pixar a few years earlier with a deal for three computer-generated feature films at a time when Pixar was almost broke. The first, Toy Story, was historic. It put Pixar on a sound financial footing and reinvigorated the commitment of Steve Jobs, Pixar's owner, to sticking with the technology, and it lit a fire under relations between Jobs and Michael Eisner, the then head of Disney.
After two more successful Pixar features, Pixar was chafing under what it considered an onerous deal whereby Disney took a lot of the profits and owned the sequel rights to all Pixar films. Monsters, Inc. went into production just as the fight between the two camps began to intensify. The film is an allegory of American business. It takes place in a one-industry town called Monstropolis, a closed community populated by monsters whose job is to generate energy through the harvesting of children's screams. The workers are completely controlled by the production process, working in pairs.
The top ''scarer'', James P. ''Sulley'' Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) is a giant blue bear with spots and horns. Every night he enters some child's bedroom through the closet door. The screams are harvested by his offsider and best friend, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), who stays in the factory, at the controls. Mike is a green ball on legs, with one huge eye. He is a wisecracking Brooklyn streetwise kind of monster, a marked contrast to the big, sweet, hairy Sulley.
The monsters compete to produce the most scares. Sulley's main rival is a sneaky, chameleon-like lizard called Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi), who will stop at nothing to be top guy. The monsters are terrified of children. They have strict rules - no touching, and never let a child back across the wardrobe-door boundary into Monstropolis. All hell breaks out when a cute little two-year-old girl follows Sulley back.
Boo (Mary Gibbs) thinks he's a toy. She calls him Kitty.
I think Monstropolis is a coded version of the way Pixar then saw Disney. They're in the same business - making money from children, but there's something nasty about the industrial way they do it. Sulley eventually reforms the company and becomes the new CEO, replacing the corrupt leader Henry J. Waternoose III (James Coburn). Sulley turns the business model around - they will make kids laugh rather than scream, because laughs generate more energy.
Of course, this has no correlation to what happened when Disney bought Pixar in 2006 for $US7.4 billion and Jobs became Disney's biggest shareholder. In that buyout, John Lasseter - the genius animator of Pixar - became the chief creative officer at both Disney Animation and Pixar. In effect, Pixar took over Disney animation from within, and Disney paid them to do it. Pixar retained its independent status in the deal.
The 3D version is the same film it always was, only in 3D. It's still lovely, funny and inventive. It now also seems prophetic.
On Twitter @ptbyrnes