If you grew up with Monsters, Inc., it might not be a bad idea to make a ritual of revisiting it every few years to see how much more you understand. Kids enjoy its monsters, but as time passes it becomes clear how attuned it is to the rhythms of a day on the job. Its begrudging love of the workplace, paperwork and all, is the source of so much of its wickedness. You might remember George Sanderson, if not by name, as the big furry guy who has to be shaved and coned like a dog. Memorable, but just as funny is the totally unconvincing way he struts out onto the “scare floor,” bragging “I’m on a roll” with the self-effacement of a man who doesn’t usually brag but might as well give it a try this time. We’ve all worked with guys like George.

In this world, monsters greet the day to an upbeat, swinging score courtesy of Randy Newman, who even on soundtrack duty reminds us he’s king of all things wry and sly. There’s jazz all through the movie, from the virtuosic big-band variation on “If I Didn’t Have You” that accompanies the delightful traditionally-animated opening credits to the playful drum patter that picks up when the little girl Boo laughs and all the doors in the vault light up. Mike Wazowski, his incessant Borscht Belt commentary courtesy of Billy Crystal, is more than just the movie’s funny green guy. He epitomizes its irreverent East Coast sensibility, which is “urban” in an early 20th-century European-American way that has room for a mustached Italian greengrocer who juggles fruits and vegetables with his many tentacles.

Mike’s jokes never stop, and neither does the movie’s. There are gags that feel ancient, as when a monster made of eyes announces at a crime scene that he “saw the whole thing!” There’s great physical comedy, as when big blue Sulley thinks Boo is being crushed into a cube, or when the young monster-in-training trips on a ball and lands ass-first on a pile of jacks. There’s adult humor, like when you realize where the snow cones come from (best not to ask about the “coffee,” either). And then there’s the imposition of logic on a world inhabited by monsters, as when a firebreather scorches the paper he’s reading, though the wonderful sequel Monsters University one-upped this scene by having a snail exclaim “I can’t be late on my first day of class!”

Director Pete Docter has emerged as Pixar’s premier existentialist with pictures like Up, Inside Out and Soul. Monsters, Inc. is not one of Pixar’s great tearjerkers, and when the friends threaten to separate, it’s less wrenching than Finding Nemo’s painful scene inside the mouth of a whale. Most of the movie’s pathos comes from Sulley’s attachment to Boo, the kid who sneaks into the monster world. Listen to John Goodman’s self-defeating sweetness as he stands in the closet to reassure his young ward that “there’s no monster in here… well, now there is.” The little-girl-warms-curmudgeon’s-heart story arc has been done from the silent days all the way to George Clooney’s recent sci-fi clunker The Midnight Sky, but rarely this gracefully.

Mike wants nothing more than to get rid of the girl, leading to some great verbal sparring between Crystal and Goodman. Children in this universe are considered toxic, but it’s the monsters’ job to scare them and harvest their screams for energy. The unwholesomeness of this profession is hinted at by how realistic the kids’ screams are—they were a little disturbing even as a kid—and finally spelled out in a scene where poor Sulley realizes how scary he really is. Venal, crab-legged Waternoose is a great villain, profiting off the trauma of children, feigning fatherliness towards Sulley while plotting against him, regretting banishing his top worker but assuaging himself by thinking of the profits he could make. Maybe you’ve had a boss like him. He’s aged well as a totem of corporate unscrupulousness, even if his arrest at the end and the company’s subsequent acquisition by its workers is something could only happen in Monstropolis.

The movie is not as visually stunning as some of its successors, mostly taking place in low-ceilinged corridors, and the textures on the monsters’ scales and skin are a far cry from the ridiculously well-animated cat in Toy Story 4. Though slug-like secretary Roz goes from harridan to human (or something like it), the movie has no time for women, and Mike’s girlfriend Celia is more of a personification of dating frustrations than a personality. (A scene where Mike forces a kiss on her is even ickier taking John Lasseter’s involvement into account.) But the few areas in which Monsters, Inc. hasn’t aged well are made up for by how the jokes blossom with repeated viewings, how a perceptive office comedy unearths itself from beneath the bright colors and goofy faces.

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