At 9:00 p.m. each night, your closet door ceases to function as a closet door. It becomes instead a gateway to the netherworld. A porthole to the land of monsters. But then, if you’re under the age of 8, you already knew that. The rest of this is for your parents.
On the other side of that closet door lies a huge city filled with monsters of every color, stripe and claw. A one-eyed head bobs on pencil-thin legs (Mike). A giant purple and green fur-covered beast (Sulley) rattles the walls. A Raptor-style lizard (Randall) lurks and snarls. Cleverly enough, electricity for “Monstropolis” is generated by capturing and processing the screams of scared little children. So a great number of the monsters work for the power company—Monsters, Inc. They sneak through those closet doors, scaring not-quite-asleep little boys and girls. “We scare because we care,” reads the slogan above the factory doors.
What no one knows in human-land is that monsters are as scared of little kids as little kids are of monsters. Sulley, Mike, Randall and Co. have been taught since they were wee beastie babes that humans are toxic. So the second a child makes a move, the monsters retreat.
Imagine the panic and comedy that ensues in Monstropolis, then, when a little girl (Boo) sneaks through her door and attaches herself to Sulley.
The bottom line here is: Children needn’t fear the dark. They needn’t stare wide-eyed and sleepless at their closet doors, anxiously waiting for what might emerge. Imagination is fun, we’re told, but it shouldn’t make you scared.
I should present this caution right up front, though. Depending on how kids process fantasy cartoons, Monsters, Inc. will either cure them of fright forever or give their trembling brains more fearful fodder. The ultimate message is one of safety, kindness, love and friendship, but the path there is occasionally troubled by scary turns.
What else sends good vibrations?
1) Healthy oral hygiene. Even monsters brush their teeth, we’re shown. And we hear that “good monsters don’t have plaque.”
2) Friendship. Mike and Sulley are great buds, and their comradeship is reflected in the song lyric, “I wouldn’t have nothin’ if I didn’t have you.” Sulley’s growing affection for Boo is also very sweet and touching. Indeed, he begins to take care of her even before he realizes he doesn’t have to be scared of her.
3) Doing the right thing even if it’s costly. Sulley and Mike squabble, but end up advocating for each other and sacrificing for each other. Along the way, they expose and fight back against an evil plot that would harm children if it weren’t stopped.
4) Romance. Mike sees love in his future. Better yet, his intentions are nothing short of noble, and his actions always honorable.
5) Making the best of a bad situation. Mike twice refuses to get upset when he’s not given his full due or is inadvertently hidden from the limelight.
6) Good sportsmanship. Sulley’s competition with Randall to see who is the best scarer shows Randall cheating to get ahead … but Sulley, our hero, placidly proclaiming, “May the best monster win.”
Scary for a 4-year-old. Nothing but fun and games for a tween. Downright silly in the eyes of a teen. Monsters roar. They skulk. They startle.
One scene in particular that will alarm some children has one fearsome monster battering down a door to attack Sulley and Mike. It’s a noisy scene, designed to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Additionally, a nightmarish machine built to “extract screams” is tried out more than once. We see the fear in the eyes of those facing it. And we see the red and puffy lips of a monster who has been dazed and damaged (not quite killed) by the force of its menacing nozzle. Boo whimpers and cries when confronting it.
The monsters are prone to fighting one another from time to time. Sometimes for fun. Other times in the grip of an evil rage. Invisible when he chooses to be, Randall attacks Sulley. Sulley fights back. Blows rain down on both of them. Randall slams Mike against a wall and twists his arms into a painful position. In turn, Mike slams a door on Randall fingers, yelling, “I hope that hurt, lizard-boy!” Even Boo gets in on the action and beats Randall over the head with a toy baseball bat. We see a silhouette of Randall getting bludgeoned with a shovel. Several monsters slap others to either get their attention or try to hurt them.
Sulley slides, tumbles and crashes down a snow-packed mountain. And the whole gang goes for a wild ride on fast-moving conveyer belts strung high in the air. Mike’s fingers get painfully pinched in a slammed window. He intentionally crunches his crotch down on a beam to try to solicit laughs from Boo.
On a more psychological plane, Sulley goes though a few moments when he thinks Boo has been killed in a mammoth trash compactor. He (and we) sees parts of her costume sticking out of a compacted block of garbage; he faints from the shock. Moviegoers know she’s fine, but watching his anguish and contemplating the idea that she might have somehow been crushed in such a manner will sober more than a few … moms and dads.
“What the …!?” trails off twice. Name-calling includes “creep,” “idiot,” “jerk,” “dope,” “butterball” and “stupid, pathetic waste.”
Pretending to be a stand-up comic, Mike swallows a microphone and burps ferociously. He sprays disinfectant in his eye. And hiding from the bad monsters in a bathroom, he sticks his foot in the toilet and then walks out of the room dragging toilet paper behind him. One monster is known as Mr. Bile (“My friends call me Phlegm”).
It’s the almost unbearably adorable Boo chanting “Mike Shushowski! Mike Shushowski!” who will win over parents’ hearts the moment they meet her in this movie. It’s the hilarious goofball Mike who’ll grab the tweenage boys. And it’s great big furry Sulley who’ll sweet-talk the girls. But it’s not just the cute, cuddly and fun factor that works so well here:
Monsters, Inc. actually has a fair amount of heft when you start to break apart its life-lesson themes (as I have in “Positive Elements” above). Loyalty. Love. Friendship. Making good decisions. Standing up for what’s right, even when what’s right seems at first to go against everything your culture tells you is correct. Bravery in the face of dark closet recesses.
And nowhere to be seen are the beastly fiends of sexual content, profanity and substance abuse.
Indeed, a bit of G-rated fantasy/slapstick violence is really the only thing that’s even close to scary about Monsters, Inc. But it’s still something that’s worth working through on the front-end … before your tyke takes the wrong lesson away from the “scare floor” and starts triple-checking her closet door seven times a night.