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2001-11-04 - 7:20 a.m.

MONSTERS, INC.

Kat and Day-Hay are literary kids. Stories, whether on-screen or in books, have provided the framework for many an exploration of the world. Most of the best conversations we’ve had have been based upon stories. While we’ve read more than our share of the Berenstein Bears (or at least I think we have), we’ve also read and re-read “The Runaway Bunny,” “Black Beauty,” and assorted Greek and African myths and legends. With all this working out of the world through literature, you’d think they’d be naturals for “The Book of Virtue” that the middle school counselors swear by but they never have. The books and movies that have most shaped our lives have been slightly subversive. “Monsters, Inc.” is no exception.

Kat and I have been a bit under the weather but we were ready to get out of the house today. The girls suggested we go see “Monsters, Inc.” so we did. Even at fourteen, the creative writer in Kat trumps the need to be cool. She knew she wanted to see it so we sat at the kiddies’ matinee.

The heart of this movie, of course, is the concept that things that go bump in the night are more afraid of us than we are of them. This concept is not new. Kat had a book called “The Something” that was about a monster who was afraid of the thing that appeared in his bad dreams: a little girl. Kat read it frequently when she was at the height of fears of the monsters under the bed. It did less for Day-Hay whose fears were more reality-based.

But “The Something” lacked the fully realized images of “Monsters, Inc.” Even if it had had them, the timing would not have been as right as the timing now is for “Monsters, Inc.” The decontamination suits, the fear of contagion, and the crazed behavior at any possible sign of contact are out of today’s anxieties more than yesterday’s. Teen and tween though they are, “Monsters, Inc.” served the purpose that stories have often served in their lives. It provided a way to discuss important issues.

We discussed the reaction of the monsters to people. We discussed the part that younger children are likely to miss: the realization that the head of the protection agency seems to have known all along that children are not toxic to monsters. They are still exploring the implications. The movie itself gives no clues. Kat suspected that she was bending to the public fears. I suspect the government had its own reasons for wanting to make sure that the monster and the human world were kept separate. After all, fear powered the monster world. Day-Hay still hasn’t committed herself to any reasons and has questioned both theories.

“Monsters, Inc.” has its flaws. The ending is a bit obvious and the theme that laughter is stronger than fear is a bit simplistic and dubious (although Kat contends it is what all of us need to hear right now and perhaps she’s right.) Evil, as it often is presented in children’s movies, is too obviously evil. Still and all, for the literary school-age kid, “Monsters, Inc.” may be an important story to see and hear–but get there early. Everyone else has the same idea.

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