As children (and sometimes even as grown-ups) we’re afraid of the monsters that linger in our closets and under our beds. We’ve heard them crawling around on our bedroom floors, waiting to get us as we lie there in the dark.

“Monsters, Inc.,” a new film from Walt Disney and Pixar Entertainment, takes off from that common fear in a charming tale of two monsters who work for a scream factory. James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman) and his assistant Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), are the top producers at Monsters Inc., a power plant of sorts that relies on the power of children’s screams.

In an ingenious concept, the monsters enter our realm through the closets of unsuspecting boys and girls. Trouble is, the creatures are more afraid of the kids than the kids are of them. In fact, the biggest concern hitting the city of Monstropolis is that kids in the modern world don’t scare as easily and the city’s facing a power shortage.

The slimy Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) brings a little girl into the monsters’ world to conduct scream experiments on her, but the evil monster’s plot is thwarted when Sully learns of it. The child gets away and latches on to Sully, who, with Mike, tries desperately to get rid of her. However, as he tries to protect her from Randall, Sully becomes attached to the girl, whom he names Boo.

As the voice of Sully, Goodman gives one of his best performances. The tender but gruff voice is a perfect match for the blue haired giant, a scream producer with a heart of gold. It is too bad that Goodman hasn’t found more vehicles for his great talents. While his appearances in the Coen Brothers’ films showcase his skills, he is too often burdened with weak roles.

Billy Crystal is also a delight, adding just the right amount of comic relief. The stout green-eyed creature that is Mike Wazowski proves to be one of the best comedic buddies in recent memory, thanks to Crystal. As with Goodman, good roles for Crystal have been few and far between. It’s a shame there aren’t more films like this where he is given the chance to shine.

While there are many great things in this film, the end sequence through the bowels of the power plant are among the best and most imaginative chase scenes since Catherine Keener and Cameron Diaz ran wild through John Malkovich’s subconscious in “Being John Malkovich.” Riding through the thousands of portals that snake through the plant, Sully and Mike try to get Boo back to her room. The whole chase is thrilling, moving from situation to situation in a high-speed rhythm.

On the technical side, “Monsters, Inc.” has made major achievements in the lifelike depiction of hair. That may not be the first things moviegoers are looking for, and some may overlook it entirely, but once it comes to your attention, the hair on Sully is amazing. In the scenes where his hair is whisked around by wind, you may find yourself wondering how a computer could render something so shockingly real.

Once considered a wonderful novelty, computer animated films have become more common over the past few years. Each one pushes technology to the next level, but the strength of these films has been less about the amazingly rendered computerized images, and more about the carefully developed characters and stories they portray.

“Monsters, Inc.” continues these advancements in technology and story. This truly wonderful film is funny, touching and thrilling, a rare accomplishment in big budget films over the past few years. Every studio should look at this and other Pixar Entertainment productions, including the exceptional “Toy Story” films and “A Bug’s Life.” Perhaps they’ll learn something about fleshing out characters, a vital aspect of filmmaking.

Staff Writer Stephen Allan can be contacted at [email protected]

Monsters aren’t all bad. Pals Sully (l) and Mike (r) take care of their friends in Disney/Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc.”

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