by Ed Symkus

There are about as many ways to enjoy this film as there are weird characters in it. And it's nigh impossible to keep track of the number of characters. It works as a kids' movie because it's so funny -- and funny-looking. It works as an adult film for both those reasons; it's also clever. The adult enjoyment category can be broken down into many subcategories: some as simple as one of the film's monster characters spraying "odorant" under his arms, others aimed at specific groups of viewers, such as sci-fi lovers who will catch the reference to a Hollywood special effects great when the action switches to a restaurant named Harryhausen's. There's also a quick, but not-so-subtle nod to an old Armour Hot Dogs jingle. Look really close and you'll see a visual Henny Youngman reference about a doctor.

And on a whole different level, this is a film that gives motor-mouthed Billy Crystal, in one of the lead roles, as much space to do his shtick as the good folks at Disney gave Robin Williams in Aladdin. Crystal's on a roll from his opening lines right through to the send-up of stand-up right near the end.

The story takes place in Monstropolis, a sort of alternate universe to the real world, where only monsters live -- although that label is a stretch since monsters are usually associated with bad things. Oh, there are a couple of bad ones here, but most just look monstrous. The ones we meet -- Mike (Crystal), Sulley (John Goodman), Randall (Steve Buscemi), Celia (Jennifer Tilly) and others -- work at Monsters, Inc., a power company. Monsters, Inc. generates power for the city by collecting the energy created by screams from the children in our world who are scared out of their wits by the company's monsters making nighttime appearances in their closets.

Confusing? Not really. Everything in the film is presented in brilliantly simple form. And the story is told along with a never-ending supply of sight gags accompanied by fast and furious action.

The company provides regular morale boosts via an ongoing contest to see who can come up with the most scares, a contest that's almost always a tight race between the Yeti-like Sulley and the lizard-like Randall. If there are any lizardly PC police watching, they're not going to be happy about the portrayal of this bad guy who has a very special agenda.

The film gets cooking when there's an accident occurs. During a monster's off-hours visit into a little girl's closet, the girl somehow comes through the door into Monstropolis, comically wreaking havoc on the monsters who are as scared of her as she's supposed to be -- but isn't -- of them. Most of the story is taken up with her evading capture, with Sulley's developing a soft spot for her, and with Mike and Sulley's friendship being tested by this sticky situation.

Much like the two Toy Story outings before it, this Pixar film once again focuses on the buddy angle. Mike and Sulley are as different as can be from each other, but at the same time, they couldn't possibly get along without each other. All of that is made even more clear during the closing credits, when Crystal and Goodman sing the newest in the Randy Newman canon of pal songs (fortunately, there are no songs marring any of the action in the middle of the film).

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's seen the work from this amazing studio before that the animators are able to get such expressive performances out of their creations. And the technical prowess of the folks who made this, believe it or not, has shot up to a whole new level. Even the sound design -- listen to the ruffling of Sulley's hair when he moves quickly -- is something that's never been heard before.

And of course, there's the Disney factor, so some of this is scary (but not terrifying), some of it is slightly sad, and most of it is flat-out hilarious. And guess what? There's the happiest of endings -- though, alas, no outtakes.

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