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The monster city of Monstropolis runs on the power of human children’s screams, and Monsters Inc. is the business of scaring. James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), or Sully as he’s known to his friends, is the companies top ‘scarer’, and for a city in the grips of an energy crisis his efforts are invaluable. With the help of his work partner and best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), Sully has become a Godzilla among gremlins. But it all goes to hell in a severed hand basket when Sully accidentally lets a child into the monster world via one of Monsters Inc.’s magical doors. This normally wouldn’t be the end of the (monster) world, except that children are mistakenly considered toxic by the monster authorities.

Monsters Inc.
Monsters Inc. runs on a delightful high concept, which opens the film up to a economically fully formed universe and mythology. It’s unfortunate that the rightfully forgotten and maligned Fred Savage vehicle Little Monsters got to the whole ‘monsters scaring us from an alternate universe’ thing (in Little Monsters the monsters enter our world under beds instead of through closets), but Pete Docter’s film adds the genius element of a reason for bothering children in our world. On top of this the script adds a mystery, a pretty shocking character twist, and some of the most efficient exposition in animated film history. It’s unfortunate that there’s any comparison to be made between the two films, but the similarities are cosmetic at best. Great scripts aren’t a rarity for Pixar—in fact, they’re practically the defining element of the entire studio—so comparatively Monsters Inc.’s imaginative narrative is not really a story, but seriously guys, this is a great script. 2001 was a great year for original screenplays ( Memento, Royal Tenenbaums and Amelie), but I’d say Monster’s Inc stands higher than many of the most celebrated of the year, even the Oscar winner Gosford Park (the actual screenplay was written by Andrew Stanton, who would be nominated for best screenplay in 2009 for Wall-E).

Monsters Inc.
Speaking of the 2001 Oscars (possibly the most aggravating in my lifetime), Shrek took the first ever Best Animated Film award over Monsters Inc.. Shrek isn’t a bad film, but it has nothing on the affecting and intelligent piece of filmmaking that is Monsters Inc.. Shrek is a throwaway franchise of spoof and pop-culture references, Monsters Inc. is an original story spiked by jokes (though I should be fair, many of the film’s best visual gags are in reference to Chuck Jones cartoons, which count as pop-culture). Because I recognize that I still suffer from a mental problem similar to Gump Syndrome (the disease suffered by Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption fans who hate Forrest Gump unfairly for winning the ’94 Best Picture Oscar), I’ll stop these comparisons here.

Monsters Inc. is a comedy first, a drama second, and an action flick last, but without any one of these genre elements it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful or lasting. The comedy is broken down into dozens of categories, with Billy Crystal kind of ruling the roost, but Sully’s interaction with Boo really fills the adorable void, and offers enough levity to lead us gracefully into the more dramatic elements. The bulk of the affecting drama revolves around Sully and Boo’s father/daughter relationship, and/or Sully and Mike’s bromance. Both relationships are lead along well-travelled trails, and even fans have to admit if Sully wasn’t a giant blue monster we might not give the relationships so much of the benefit of the doubt (the third act crisis is pretty heavy-handed). But I’m also hesitant to believe anyone that claims to not have found themselves choked-up at the end of the film, when Sully opens Boo’s door and hears that familiar cry of ‘Kitty’. The action is the least necessary element, but it’s such a sweet nougaty centre it would surely be missed. The climatic million door chase is still one of the best chases in the chase-heavy studio’s collection.

Monsters Inc.

Video


I have to admit I wasn’t expecting miracles for this Blu-ray, given the film’s age, and the overall Bug’s Life transfer, which was perfectly acceptable, but short of the brilliance of the Wall-E and Up discs. Right off the bat it’s clear that fans are in for something special. The sheer brightness of the colours during the credit montage is arresting enough, and the hue intensity never lightens up. Despite the film’s age this might be the most colourful Pixar Blu-ray yet. The lighting is pretty regularly unnatural, and really harsh, but what the transfer lacks in realism it makes up for in ‘Oh my God, look at those colours’. The details and technology stand-up a bit better than A Bug’s Life (which still looked very good). It’s incredible how quickly our eyes adjust to this stuff. Fine details are quite effective, but interacting elements don’t connect as well they do in newer features. Teeth and eyes often don’t look like they’re a natural part of the character. But even in total nit-picking mode I’m really impressed by the sharpness of Sully’s hair (which was freakin’ mind-blowing at the time), fine prop and set details (carpet and walls are awesome), and some of the subtle colour changes over Mike’s skin. It’s clear in HD that a lot more time went into the textures and details of the lead characters, but the lack of human, or even worldly creatures means even the plastic looking guys fit nicely.

Monsters Inc.

Audio


Apparently Monsters Inc. has been audibly revamped for this release. This DTS-HD track certainly sounds better than the old Dolby Digital EX track, but I’m not sure how much of the difference comes out of the face that this track is uncompressed. Generally speaking the track is fantastic, and still one of mix artist extraordinaire Gary Rydstrom’s finest and most dynamic achievements. The big door room chase is a clear frontrunner for must-hear audio moment, along with the snow surround filled Himalayan scenes, but I pick the bit where Boo starts crying in Sully and Mike’s apartment as the reference level moment in the film. The bass hear throbs and punches, while the sound of flowing electricity slides from channel to channel in a smooth motion. The remix features a lot more bass than the DVD release, perhaps even a hair more than needed, based on the constant thump of Sully’s feet, but the bass adds some dimension to some of the vocal performances, especially James Coburn. The dialogue also features more directional influence than the DVD release. It will work better for those with projection screens and behind screen stereo speakers. Randy Newman’s score is more interesting than his Toy Story and Bug’s Life score in that he’s moving a little outside of his comfort zone. The score is a mix of Newman’s usually whimsical themes, cues that recall classic film cues, and big band jazz. The music is mostly a stereo affair, but there are some good echo effects.

Monsters Inc.

Extras


Things begin with the old DVD commentary track which features director Pete Docter, screenwriter Andrew Stanton, producer John Lasseter, and co-director Lee Unkrich. The commentary is well prepared, and likely edited for content (it often sounds like Stanton and Lasseter were recorded separately), but the effect is entertaining and informative. There’s a lot of time spent making sure everyone responsible gets credit, which is commendable, but kind of exhausting from a listener’s standpoint. The track is a little dated concerning the technology, of course, but it serves a historical significance—sort of.

The new extras begin with a filmmakers round table (22:00, HD). Docter, co-directors Lee Unkrich and David Silverman, and producer Darla Anderson talk up the project literally around a round table to footage from the film and the extras. This is a good companion piece to the commentary track, as the filmmakers are able to look back further on the project, and cover some subject matter that was overlooked. The best discussion concerns the deleted concepts and sequences, and the process of deleting them, all the way down to post-9/11 changes. In a surprising bout of post-modernism the contributors also discuss the old DVD extras. ‘Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek’ (12:00, HD) is a less insightful look at the film themed ride recently built at the Tokyo Disney Land. It’s an ad, but it’s a good ad, and covers the cultural impact of Disney on Japan. The first disc is finished off with the two shorts that accompanied the original DVD release— For the Birds (03:20, HD) and Mike’s New Car (03:50, HD)—both of which feature optional commentary (the first with director Ralph Eggleston, the second with the filmmakers’ sons).

Monsters Inc.
The second disc begins with ‘Roz’s 100 Door Challenge’, a mixed quiz game/search game that runs one hundred rounds. The participant is given the benefit of three wrong answers/ failures before the game is over. The load time between questions is brutal, and it’s not very fun, but the art used to illustrate the game is neat.

This is followed by all the extras that donned the second disc of the original DVD release. The extras featuring a lot of production art are mostly presented in HD video. These begin under the ‘Humans Only’ banner with ‘Pixar Fun Factory Tour’ (03:30, SD), a brief tour of the then new Pixar studio with John Lasseter, including footage of all the wacky offices, and of the studio’s first annual paper airplane contest. The ‘Story’ tab features four brief featurettes: ‘Story is King’ (02:00, SD), ‘Monsters are Real’ (01:30, SD), the original pitch treatment (13:40, HD) and ‘Story Pitch: Back to Work’ (04:30, SD). The ‘Banished Concepts’ tab features an intro (00:30, SD), four deleted scenes presented in storyboard form (08:30, HD), and one alternate scene (01:00, HD). ‘Storyboard to Film Comparison’ features a storyreel, final version, and split-screen comparison of a single scene (05:20 each, HD). ‘Monster File’ features ‘Cast of Characters’ (05:50, SD) and ‘What Makes a Great Monster’ (01:30, SD).

Monsters Inc.
The ‘Animation’ tab features the most third sub-menu info including ‘Animation Process’ (03:10, SD), early animation tests with filmmaker commentary (08:00, SD), ‘Opening Title Animation’ (02:00, SD), ‘Hard Parts’ (05:00, SD), ‘Shots Department’ (02:20, SD), and a five part ‘Production Demonstration’ (01:50 each, SD). The ‘Music and Sound’ tab features ‘Monster Song’ (04:10, SD) and a look at sound design (03:20, SD). The ‘Humans Only’ section is finished off with HD art galleries (characters, colour script, concept art and posters), ‘Designing Monstropolis’ (05:00, SD), ‘Set Dressing’ (03:30, SD), ‘Location Fly-Arounds’ (07:30, SD), premiere footage (01:00, SD), trailers and TV spots (no teaser), a multi-language reel (03:45, HD), a look at the toys (01:30, SD), and most importantly all the out-takes/gag reel entries (05:30, HD).

The ‘Monsters Only’ tab features ‘Monster TV Treats’ (01:10, SD), ‘Ponkickies’ randomized game, ‘If I Didn’t have You’ music video (01:10, SD), ‘On the Job with Mike and Sully’ (02:30, SD), ‘Welcome to Monsters Inc’ (01:00, SD), ‘Your First Day’ (03:30, SD), and ‘History of the Monster World’ (01:30, SD).

Monsters Inc.

Overall


I tried to write a less personal retrospective of the film, but it’s proving impossible. Monsters Inc. practically defined my 2001 Thanksgiving and Christmas. I saw the film so many times I eventually grew a bit sick of it. This is the first time I’ve watched it since the original DVD release. Until I watched this new releases’ roundtable it hadn’t dawned on me that my affection for the film might’ve gone beyond the basic fact that it was just generally a good film (and featured an Attack of the Clones teaser). When Docter and his cohorts discuss the effect 9/11 had on the film, which was released mere months after the tragedy I had a bit of an epiphany. Now it all seems so clear—the film is, at its most basic, about replacing fear with laughter. I can’t go back in time and re-evaluate my feelings on the film, but this new information has helped me re-connect with the film I’d left behind for trans-Pacific journeys with fish, middle-aged superheroes, and cooking rats.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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