"Monsters, Inc." is the latest feature from Pixar animation, the studio that created both "Toy Story" features and "A Bug's Life". "Monsters" is a film that's as visually impressive and inventive as any of the studio's prior efforts. However, it's unlike previous Pixar efforts in the way that the intended audience is geared more towards children than the "Toy Story" films, which contained a good mix of gags for both young and old audiences.
The story is fairly simple, but has some inspired elements: James P. Sullivan (a big furry monster, voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (a walking eye, voiced by Billy Crystal) are workers at Monsters, Inc. The company produces energy for its world, as the monster workers venture through doors into our world, scaring children and capturing their screams to provide power for the city.
However, today's kids have grown more sophisticated and more difficult to scare, causing power problems with the city (newspapers advise about upcoming "rolling blackouts"). Another fun element is that the monsters are insanely afraid of the children, as they believe they will be infected if children - or any of their items - touch them. Early in the picture, we're shown an example, as hazardous materials teams invade the plant after a sock sticks to a monster's fur.
The story develops further: Sullivan is the leader of the plant, providing more screams than any of the other workers. This leads to jealousy from Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), who wants the title for himself. One day, a curious little girl follows Sullivan through the door without his knowledge. When he and Mike find out, they're terrified at first, but soon find themselves growing more fond of their new role as parents. Still, they realize that their new visitor has to go back to her own world, but as with any plan, it won't be that easy.
I really wasn't expecting "Monsters, Inc." to try and match the fun and wit of the "Toy Story" series and it really does not. The film's plot is a bit too thin for its own good and even at only 93 minutes, it feels stretched out and rather sluggish at times. Although most of the slapstick-ish jokes are geared towards children, some of the humor is hit-and-miss, with the occasional gag that falls flat.
The voice work is quite solid, with Goodman's voice work nicely portraying Sullivan's moving turn towards recognizing his new responsibility. Crystal is his usual funny and chaotic self, while Busemi pulls off the evil Randall quite well. Overall, I've warmed up to "Monsters, Inc." after being a bit disapointed with the picture upon first viewing last Winter. It's a fun - if rather slight - picture that certainly has its moments.
VIDEO: "Monsters, Inc." is presented by Disney in THX-certfied 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, along with an additional 1.33:1 full-frame presentation. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is an exceptional one; as with many of the other computer-animated features of recent years, "Monsters, Inc." boasts a transfer that's taken directly from the digital source. The picture offers exceptional sharpness and detail, with definition that the film didn't even seem to have theatrically.
Although this is usually where I'd discuss the flaws in the image quality, I really found nothing to be concerned about here. Edge enhancement is entirely absent, as is pixelation or any other such artifacts. Given this is a transfer from the digital source, there's nothing in the way of print flaws at all.
The animated feature's very bright color palette was rendered beautifully on this presentation, appearing wonderfully well-saturated and rich, with no smearing. Black level remained solid throughout, as well. Quite frankly,this is about as good as it gets - definitely a reference quality presentation. THX's "Moo Cow" trailer appears before the show.
SOUND: "Monsters, Inc." is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. The film's sound designer is Gary Rydstrom, who also worked on both of Pixar's "Toy Story" films. Obviously, in an animated feature, the sounds of the universe have to be created from the ground up. While most animated features are satisfied to distribute a few sound effects around the room, Rydstrom lets his imagination run wild, crafting his animated sound works down to the finest detail (the sound designer has been featured on documentaries included on this and other DVDs, such as the one for Disney's special edition of "Atlantis").
"Monsters" is another example of Rydstrom at his finest: surrounds are aggressively and often cleverly engaged to provide a wealth of sound effects that often have great personality. To easier appreciate the work of Rydstrom and his crew, there is an additional 5.1-EX soundtrack included on the widescreen edition of the film that provides only the sound effects - nothing else.
Aside from being a more active soundtrack than most animated efforts, the "Monsters, Inc." soundtrack also is a bit more lively in the sound quality department. Considerably low bass is heard and felt in a handful of scenes, while sound effects come through with exceptional clarity and detail. Randy Newman's fun score also sounds warm and has nice presence in the soundtrack. Last, but not least, dialogue is well-recorded, sounding crisp and natural.
MENUS: While the main menus on both discs are a little on the ordinary side, many of the sub-menus put film-themed images to more creative use.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Pete Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich and executive producers John Lasseter (director of Pixar's other films) and Andrew Stanton (co-director on Pixar's prior films). As with all of the other commentary tracks that Stanton, Unkirch and Lasseter have provided (Docter is, as far as I know, new to commentaries), this is a fun track that provides a fine amount of technical and production information while having fun with the proceedings and not talking in too great detail for potential kid audiences to be too confused. The commentary has no gaps of silence and really does provide an insightful discussion of the production and story details.
Sneak Peeks: Sneak Peek trailers for Pixar's Summer '03 animated film "Finding Nemo", "Beauty and the Beast: SE", "Lilo and Stitch", "Inspector Gadget 2" and Disney's November release, "Treasure Planet".
THX Optimode Tests: THX's audio/video tests, located in the set up area.
Opening Material: Aside from an opening intro by director Pete Docter and other members of the Pixar crew, there are a few features outside the main areas of the second disc. They include: "outtakes" from the film, as well as shorts "Mike's New Car" and "For The Birds" ("Birds" played in front of "Monsters, Inc." at most - if not all - theaters).
Sections: The supplemental material is split into two sections: "Humans Only" and "Monsters Only". These two sections offer different material - "Humans" is geared more towards the production and technical aspects, while "Monsters" offers more along the lines of fun and games. I'll first discuss what the "Humans" section offers.
Pixar Fun Factory Tour: This is a short featurette where Pixar head John Lasseter, "Monsters, Inc." director Pete Docter and other members of the Pixar crew lead the audience through the Pixar facilities. For those who have seen some of the other featurettes on Pixar from the other DVDs of Pixar films, you'll know what to expect: while work is important, time is made for things like Paper airplane contests that the entire company gathers to view.
Sound Design: Sound design genius Gary Rydstrom and co-sound designer Tom Meyers are interviewed on this featurette and they discuss the various steps it takes to get towards the final sound mix. As I noted in the sound review, it's very interesting to see how Rydstrom and crew try and create a sound environment that starts in their own imaginations.
Binaural Recording: This featurette introduces viewers to this new technology, which can attempt to provide a "surround" feeling through headphone listening.
Animation Process: Members of the Pixar team take the audience step-by-step through the animation process, showing how they take images from the story reel (essentially a moving storyboard) towards the final, finished animation.
Early Tests: Members of the Pixar team provide commentary for some early tests that attempted to visualize the characters.
Opening Credits Sequence: Director Docter discusses the development of the opening title sequence, which was important to set the tone of the film.
Hard Parts: The Pixar crew is interviewed on this featurette, discussing the kind of challenges that they had in front of them on this production, such as trying to animate Sullivan's 3,000,000 hairs.
Shots Department: In this featurette, we're shown the work of the Shots department, which was a new group for this production, who were responsible for fine-tuning elements of the animation to better suit the desired emotion of the scene.
Production Demo: This multi-angle feature allows the viewer to use the "angle" button to switch between the storyreel, layout, animation and final color of one scene.
Story Is King: This featurette leads off the "Story" section and introduces Pixar's story department. We learn more about the storyboarding process, and how the animators must pitch ideas to the rest of the staff.
Monsters are Real: A very short featurette that includes interviews with Crystal and Goodman. The simple piece mainly talks about the film's plot.
Back To Work: As viewers saw on the "Story is King" featurette (and with many of the other Pixar SE DVDs), animators have to pitch their ideas via storyboards to the rest of the crew. In this scene, one of the film's story supervisors must try to act out a scene in the film while leading the audience visually through the scene via the storyboards put up in sequence on the wall.
Original Treatment: The animated version of the original story treatment.
Banished Concepts: Four deleted clips, presented in a mixture of storyboard and other elements.
Original Sully Intro: The original introduction to Sully, presented in what appears to be near-finished form.
Storyboard to Film: A comparison (available in either storyreel, final color or split-screen) for one scene in the film.
Monster Files: This section provides a list of characters, "What Makes a Great Monster?" featurette and a library of character design concepts.
Release: This section collects several items related to the film's promotion and release. First, there's a clip from the film's LA premiere. Next, there's a short featurette on the film's toys, as the animation staff (who seem as if they've never grown up themselves) play with and talk about their ideas for the film's toys. Rounding out the area are the outtakes from before, a poster gallery, 3 TV spots, the film's 2 theatrical trailers and teaser trailer, international inserts (small visual elements changed) and a clip from the film shown in 30 different languages.
Monstropolis: This short featurette leads off the "Design" area. It offers comments from director Docter, as well as John Lasseter and other members of the Pixar crew, who give a good overview of the visualization process for building the Monster's world.
Set Dressing: While this section's featurette is quite interesting, more fascinating is the included "step through", where the viewer can see the basic "set" for a scene, then go step-by-step as more details and props are added in.
Master Lighting: This lengthy gallery offers a look at before/after for the final lighting applied to the animation.
Location Flyarounds: Small tours of the animated film's "locations".
Also in "Design": Color scripts, Monstropolis Art and a guide to the film's "in jokes".
New Monster Adventures: This section leads off the "Monster's Only" area of the supplemental disc. The first extra included here is the "Mike's New Car" short, which is also available from the main menu. Next, there's "Monster TV Treats", which were short ads featuring the movie's stars. Rounding out the section are: "Ponkikes 21", a Japanese game Pixar created animation for; "Boo's Door Game"; "Welcome To Monstropolis" interactive story and "If I Didn't Have You" music video.
Behind the Screams: This section includes the outtakes from the film, the "Monsters, inc. Company Play" and "On the Job With Mike & Scully" news clip.
Orientation: This section includes the "Welcome To Monsters, Inc." ad; an orientation video; history of Monster World animated clip; Monsters, Inc. employee handbook, Scarer of the Month listing and scarer cards.
Also: DVD-ROM features, including interactive game.
Final Thoughts: While "Monsters, Inc." doesn't always succeed, the movie has a lot of heart and quite a few laughs. Disney's DVD edition is an impressive offering, delivering excellent audio/video quality and a wealth of supplements. An easy recommendation.