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my favourite monster

In the mid-nineties, there was a peculiar re-surgance in the popularity of those lovable public service characters, the crash dummies. Of course, these weren’t the real crash dummies, they were a family of corporately sponsored merchandise-machines with names like “Spin” and “Smash” who spawned baby dummies (somehow) and drove around in a checkered car. They were primarily an action figure line, but they also had a one-shot television episode. I will always remember it because it had the distinction of being the first entirely computer generated cartoon I had ever seen, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

Then computer-generated animation began surfacing in the world of commercials. Before you knew it, you couldn’t watch a basketball game without herds of stiff, corporate, wildlife minions telling you about the virtues of beer or candy. Still, the novelty made it just bearable enough to keep you from leaping from the couch in a violent rage.

Then from Pixar, a leading studio in the field, came Toy Story. And Toy Story II. And soon familiarity bred utter contempt. What once seemed like a revolutionary, not to mention kewl looking new form of animation now serves as just another unwelcome reminder of just how lifeless and flaccid our culture has become.

One thing that's never flaccid is the characters in here. The story is about how the monsters that kids are afraid of live in a secret world, that one little girl discovers, much to the terror of the monsters, who are actually afraid of children. That’s right, it’s that kind of movie.

Now, to me, the one saving grace of computer generated animation is that we might be saved from having to watch the same vomitous movie stars play essentially the same vomitous character in every movie they’re in. Unfortunately, the producers of “Monsters, Inc.” have opted to bypass this, the one virtue of the medium in favor of loading the whole atrocity with some of the most recognizable, and by extension, nauseating, voices in Hollywood. John Goodman and Billy Crystal, both of whom have actually been funny in the distant past, play the two main characters, an enormous plush toy and an eyeball that I’m sure will be responsible for many choking hazard related fatalities before too long.

It’s time for us to realize that computer-generated animation, the pinnacle of which is reached with “Monsters, Inc.” just plain looks really bad. The monsters look like designs for action figures and happy-meal toys and the humans are disturbingly hollow-faced vacant zombies. I look at this style of animation as sort of the Ritalin-addled bastard son of traditional animation, where two-dimensional works of art are shown in rapid succession to create the illusion of life and stop-action animation where three-dimensional works of art are shown in much the same way. The problem with Pixar-style animation is that there are no works of art involved in the process, just meticulously fabricated wire-frames with skins that never actually exist in real life. The wire frames never change in the slightest bit, there’s no warm element of human imperfection that makes Merrie Melodies and its ilk so full of life. There’s none of the loving craftsmanship that makes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” a masterpiece. In short, there’s no artfulness.

But this is more a symptom than anything else. Our young ’uns play a lot of video games when they’re not pounding down “Mighty Kid Meals” these days. They should be watching Bugs Bunny or something, but instead they’re living the hollow zombie world of video-game effects. So we shouldn’t be surprised this is the kind of thing they’re expected to like, it’s just important we loose sight of how horrible it all is.

_______________ Lester Smiley knows full well what the characters in this movie symbolize. He can be reached at