The computer-animation pioneers at Pixar had wanted Billy Crystal as the voice of Buzz Lightyear for the original ”Toy Story” back in the mid-’90s. But Crystal’s pal Robin Williams had been feuding with Disney over publicity for ”Aladdin,” and Crystal’s manager advised him against voicing Buzz. ”The biggest mistake I ever made in my life,” Crystal calls it. ”I voted [”Toy Story”] for Best Picture that year. Only thing I ever turned down that I felt [bad] about.”
So Pixar didn’t have to push too hard to snag Crystal as the voice of cyclopean beastie Mike, who, with his fluffy pal Sullivan (John Goodman), terrorizes kids via special portals linking their city, Monstropolis, to bedroom closets. While spooking a little girl, the boogey boys inadvertently leave the gateway open — and become unlikely adoptive parents after she follows them back to the scare factory.
Since Pixar is based in Northern California, it’s fitting that ”Monsters, Inc.” features an ecology-minded subplot. ”The monsters harness the screams of children for energy,” says codirector Docter. ”[But] kids today are jaded, not easily scared. So they’re undergoing an energy crisis.” Speaking of fluttering fuel gauges, Disney — which shares box office and merchandise profits with Pixar — hopes to ride ”Monsters, Inc.” to a major toy- and ticket-sales surge after a disappointing summer. The studio moved the picture from its traditional Thanksgiving slot to early November to avoid competing directly with what executive producer and screenwriter Stanton calls ”a very popular movie about a very popular little boy.” In other words, what makes even monsters scream is ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”