What’s made Pixar such a successful animation studio over the last 18 years is the level of collaboration which goes into every film. The Toy Story cycle brought digitextual animation to mainstream cinemas as scientists, architects and designers worked together to invent new ways of implementing their product for the screen. A Bug’s Life (1998) made staggering advances in crowd sequence animation, while Toy Story 2 (1999) rolled on from the glistening accomplishment of the first instalment. Monsters, Inc. (2001), meanwhile, took its inspiration from the same childhood fantasies we all share – of the evil creature lurking under the bed.
But what if, like any of us, the monsters were just doing their job? Pete Docter uses this to invent the ingenious parallel city of Monstropolis where friendly ogre Sulley (John Goodman) and his one-eyed assistant Mike (Billy Crystal) hold the accolade of top ‘scarers’. In typical Pixar fashion, the writing team flip the story on its head to suggest that the monsters are actually terrified of children; the only reason they scare them is to harness their screams for electricity. The prime fear of a child somehow contaminating their world is realised when human stowaway Boo (Mary Gibbs) takes a shine to Sulley – and so ensues a hilarious comedy of errors.
Unlike the Pixar films that preceded it, Monsters, Inc. is about the creation of a brave new world. Woody and Flick were both inhabitants of our own, but here the writing team have introduced quirks and nuances that are specific to Monstropolis. Because Pixar allow new directors to take control of every film, there is a democratising process which encourages the creative team to go one better each time. Monsters, Inc. looked to tackle fur – something which in the film looks straightforward. But Sulley’s fuzzy hair is extremely difficult to animate successfully; to get the texture and density correct, to design how it moves (skin doesn’t blow in the wind) and develop how it interacts with different elements.
In a way, there’s something precious about a Pixar story; the studio no longer adheres to the processes of Disney and still remains the industry leader in computer animation. In this sense, it’s frustrating to see their films receiving ‘the 3D treatment’, as Monsters, Inc. has, but then again it suggests that Pixar does everything in its power to remain at the front of the pack. Yet regardless, Docter’s film remains a warmhearted, joyous and innovative tale, delivered with an extra bit of magic from esteemed voice artists Goodman and Crystal – one to revisit this week, in Blu-ray 3D or otherwise.