Like an all-pro linebacker, sulley (voiced by John Goodman) has a hulking star quality. A great bear of a monster, he has the job of jumping out of bedroom closets, scaring small kids and harvesting their screams to generate power in Monstropolis. Nobody does it better. Returning to his own side of a closet door as a dozen girlish wails follow him, he says, with modest pride, "Slumber party."
Monsters, Inc., the latest enchantment from the Pixar computer animators (the Toy Story films, A Bug's Life), is the story of Sulley, his pear-shaped, Cyclopsian trainer Mike (Billy Crystal) and a little girl-Sulley calls her Boo, she calls him Kitty-who threatens to wreck their world by infecting it with, yick!, humanity. It makes for a lovely lesson in the perils of surrogate parenting.
For 90 minutes, Monstropolis is a great place to live, as you survey this dense comic universe, beautifully visualized by director Pete Docter and his team. A delicatessen is a grossery, a tabloid The Daily Glob. Before a date-say, dinner and a monster truck rally-the male applies his odorant (Smelly Garbage, Wet Dog). Even minor characters have cunning personalities. Mike's girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) has five live snakes for hair ringlets, and when she idly says of her 'do, "I'm thinking of getting it cut," each reptile snaps into a horrified doubletake.
Shrek, this film's prime competition for the first Animated Feature Oscar, is a synoptic parody of fairy tales. In Monsters, Inc. the gags aren't as spot-on but the technique is miles ahead. The vision is grander and warmer-as sweet as a child's growing love for a big ugly furry bear-right up to the marvelously satisfying final shot. In this film the real monsters are bad manners (represented by Steve Buscemi's nasty chameleon) and corporate myopia (James Coburn's pompous crab). The good guys are those who realize that laughter is stronger than fear. That's a message worth taking to heart these jittery days.
-By Richard Corliss