I belong to a group of cobbers who gather at an old cottage every fall. We slurp single malts, cook outrageously rich dishes for breakfast, lunch and supper, fire up a cigar or two and generally fill the air with our gassy opinions on the state of things. It's been 15 years of this, and the day we switch to an all-vegetable menu is quickly coming down.
Fifteen years -- eef. There is video footage of our original get-together. Incredibly embarrassing stuff. One guy in particular complained about the conversation: "I wish you guys would supply the footnotes to what you're saying." We were an incorrigible bunch -- most of us still in University, over half of us doing Graduate work.
I'm happy to report that fifteen years have taken a pleasant toll on our group level of testosterone and smart-assedness. However, the same guy -- still single, still straight, still childless -- said, "For years I didn't know what half of you were talking about. I still don't know, but at least now all I have to do is visit my four-year-old nephew and watch a few of his movies."
It's true: we've gone from aping Woody Allen and (oog) meta-referencing Lacan, Auerbach and Schweitzer (tsk -- old obnoxious habits do die hard. Shameful) to quoting Mike Wazowski.
Ah, but Pixar's Monsters, Inc. is a movie lovingly crafted to call to the tiny, darkened corners of our hearts. It's a buddy movie writ large -- the hulking, muscular "Sully" (voiced by the hulking John Goodman) allows himself to play straightman to the vertically challenged and too-clever-by-half smartmouth "Mike Wazowski" (Billy Crystal). Mike's love-interest is the Medusa-coiffed "Celia", and even though she is an odd thing to behold, a guy can't help but get a little itchy and scratchy when her voice has that busty-breathy Jennifer Tilly quality.
Hollywood's natural impulse would be to put Celia at the stress-point of a potential love-interest triangle, but nope: Sully's fine with Mike's latest affaire du coeur. The actual source of conflict is over a three-year-old girl, who lives on the other side of the closet door.
The beauty of Monsters, Inc. is in its patient, elaborate set-up. You have monsters who live in a parallel universe, powered by the screams of children. You want meta-referencing? MI has it in spades -- including nerdy references to Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen, with a host of Pixar in-house visual gags. Wielded by less competent hands, these gags would have all the subtlety and delight of a Nixon-era bumper-sticker. But John Lasseter and his Pixar crew have woven together a layered, fantastical world that is recognizable in its nuance and breath-takingly other in its scope -- the MI universe, in fact, becomes a loving homage to one of Lasseter's most revered influences, Hayao Miyazaki. (One of my cinema regrets is being layed low by the stomach flu when my family went to see MI on the big screen -- encountering the closet-door warehouse on that enormous scale must have been incredible.)
As meticulously rendered as this universe is, Miyazaki's greatest influence is seen Sully's increasing protective instincts toward the three-year-old girl, "Boo" -- which is, I suspect, the deepest pull for me and my buddies. Mike's desire for Celia is garden-variety romance -- the smart-ass runt can never quite believe this beautiful creature is actually falling for him, and he'll do everything in his power to keep the magic alive. But discovering a heart-felt concern for the safety and well-being of these tiny, alien creatures that seemingly jump into your life unbidden (explain it to me again: where do babies come from? You're kidding -- right?) ... well, that catches every father off-guard. It gobsmacks him, knocks him out, turns everything inside out in a way he could never anticipate, until what finally becomes truly alien are the things he once thought were the most important.
You don't get that without recognizing what a shallow, self-centered twit you generally prefer to be. And who better to give voice to this urge than a short, one-eyed monster named Mike Wazowski?
Film Fave #8