Friday, July 2, 2010

Monsters, Inc. -- dependence, desensitization and delight

Directors: Pete Docter & David Silverman, 2001. (G)

There are monsters in the bedroom closet to be afraid of. We have probably all experienced that fear that descends like a blanket when the light is turned out and the strange noises begin. As we grow up, this irrational fear dissipates (unless we watch a scary horror movie, and then we want to sleep with the light on). But it is at the heart of this Pixar animated film.

Monster's Inc. spans two different worlds: the human world and the world of monsters. They intersect in the closet doorways, through which the monsters emerge into the world of boys and girls to scare them senseless. They scare because they care. They care about their own world and the energy that the human screams generate.

In Monstropolis, this monstrous city, "Monsters Inc." is the energy compnay that powers the city. Sulley (voice of John Goodman, Barton Fink) leads the monsters on the scare board. Like a rock star, he goes to work frightening little kids. This big, blue lovable furball is a tough guy at work, but a softy at home. His partner and buddy, Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal, The Princess Bride) acts as his "ringman," getting the doors ready and preparing the cylinder tanks to accept the screams. This giant eyeball with limbs, resembling a small Cyclops, is the wisecracker in the team. With rolling brown-outs impacting the city, Monstropolis has its own energy crisis.

All Pixar movies seem to attain top-notch technical prowess stemming from attention to even the smallest of details. Indeed, it took typically 11-12 hours to render each frame that contained Sulley because his 2 million hairs required careful animation. And the comedy is family-appropriate with subtle references that adults will catch. This film is no exception. Seeing this again, after several years, it felt as fresh as the first time. Though it lost the Oscar for Best Animated Movie to Shrek, it is certainly worthy of its nomination. Moreover, Pete Doctor went on to win his Oscar for last year's Pixar film, Up.

But all Pixar films include some deep themes to complement the comedy. The first here is the dependence on a dwindling energy supply. Monstropolis is suffering from a lack of screams and hence a limit on electricity. In 2010 we are facing a dwindling supply of fossil-fuel. Even as the newspapers carry stories of the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, we realize petrol and gas are getting in shorter and shorter supply. There will be a time, perhaps in the next 1-2 decades, when we can no longer rely on this energy-source. Meanwhile, we see seasonal electrical brown-outs, as in Metropolis. For a society dependent on electricity, with computer chips embedded in more and more devices and appliances, energy shortages equate to societal regression. It is a huge threat. Perhaps the number one global issue today is finding alternative energy sources that resolve these dependencies. As it was for the monsters, so too for us.

In Monstropolis, the reason for their energy crisis is that the scary monsters are no longer scary enough for the human children. And this is because of media over-exposure, thereby desensitizing them to the truly scary creatures that emerge from their closets. In a sense, they have seen too much. They are harder and harder to shock and scare.

This is another social commentary. Kids, teens, even adults are becoming over-saturated with violence and sex. Advertisements, bill-boards, magazines, radio and TV shows, films, all present so much information and visual imagery that we become desensitized to what we see and hear. What was shocking in the 20s, a glimpse of stocking, is now so tame it borders on boredom. The R-rated movies of the 60s and 70s look like Disney PG-13 films. We need more and more titillation to become entertained. And in so doing we deflate the value of what we see. By the time we reach adulthood we will have seen literally thousands of deaths and murders, so much so that we become immune. Then when we see a story of major loss on the news, such as in Haiti, we react with little emotion, because we are desensitized to death and horror. We need to guard ourselves, and our hearts, so that we remain sensitive to the pain and suffering that others in the world experience. Otherwise, we will turn away as the newscaster turns away, and simply forget and ignore. Instead, with a sensitive heart, we can use the resources God has blessed us with, financial or other, to provide help to other human beings in need.

As Monsters Inc. continues, we meet the antagonist, Randall (voice of Steve Buscemi, Fargo), a chameleon-like monster who is only a few points behind Sulley and wishing for more. When he tries to cheat to gain more points, Sulley gets involved and inadvertently lets a 2-year-old girl, Boo, into the monster's world. In Monstropolis, humans are considered highly toxic and deadly to the touch. They are to be avoided like the plague.

Boo's antics cause chaos in the city as the monsters look on this little one as we would look on Godzilla -- with fear. When Sulley takes her home to avoid the CDA (Child Detection Agency) operatives, a SWAT team of monsters, Wazowski envisions imminent death. But the two of them ultimately warm up to Boo, who calls Sulley "kitty". Together, they have to figure out a way to get Boo back to her own home through the correct closet door, while both evading the evil wiles of Randall, and finding a solution to the energy crisis. What they find is laughter is better than screams.

The final theme from Monsters Inc. resounds with biblical teaching. Fear raises the anxiety level putting bad stress on the body and the heart. In contrast, when we laugh we are reducing stress and usually bringing joy and happiness into our lives. The writer of Proverbs declares, "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit" (Prov. 15:13). Moreover, "A cheerful heart is good medicine" (Prov. 17:22). Although thrillers and suspense movies often make more money and win more trophies than comedies, when we exit the cineplex we are tense, sweaty-palmed with knotted muscles. But when we leave a comedy we are loose and relaxed. Which is better? Sulley will tell you.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
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