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Monsters, Inc. (Blu-ray + DVD)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // November 10, 2009
List Price: $40.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 11, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Blending impeccably charming writing, sensational character design, a touch of class and a mountain of heart, Monsters, Inc. proves that Pixar has a sincere eye for practically every single audience imaginable. All the while when they're presenting a new, fresh picture with blasts of color and fun-filled characters within a compact but warming storyline, their sense of humor never forgets that adults are watching as well. In fact, as with many of Pixar's films, it's arguable that it might be the most adult-minded of their productions -- not for the sense of humor, which rustles gut-level laughs on at least a handful of occasions, but for the context of its world. Though it's a simple computer animated feature with meager aims, few can rouse cheek-to-cheek grins to such a delightfully consistent rhythm.

Monsters, Inc. takes place in Monstropolis, sort of a parallel universe to ours. There, its citizens are monsters dealing with an energy crisis, since the power company, Monsters, Inc., struggles to meet the needs of the city. The problem? They scare the living daylights out of kids in our own universe through a warehouse full of doors that work as gateways, then bottle up their screams and light up their streets and homes -- yet kids are growing harder and harder to scare nowadays. Employees Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) , a short, round, green Cyclops that reminds one of a basketball, and giant Chewbacca-level furry creature Sulley (John Goodman) aren't mean creatures (quite the opposite, actually, since their absolutely delightful) but merely sharp-toothed, gangly eyed guys working 9 to 5 together on a factory floor for the improvement of their town. Better yet, they actually believe the children to be toxic little entities -- which, of course, is quite the stretch in logic. Wink, wink.

Pixar's creative vein really begins to flow with Monsters, Inc., the company's fourth major motion picture. With the Toy Story series and A Bug's Life, they used everyday environments and brought them to life in magical ways, but their thinking really turns on its ear with the creativity pumping behind Monstropolis. A universe has been created from the ground up, one that involves a world mirroring ours only with a few, well, tweaks. Office relationships exist in the Monsters, Inc. workplace, between "googley bear" Mike and his Medusa-inspired girlfriend Celia (Jennifer Tilly), while competition ignites between Sulley and his slithering competitor Randall (Steve Buschemi) under the watchful eye of mentor and Monsters, Inc. CEO Mr. Waternoose (James Coburn). Of course, this competition comes back to haunt them when a mistake on the floor lets a human child out -- and right behind Sulley's back.

That's where the true humor behind Monsters, Inc. really ignites, as Sulley and Mike try to hide their new little human friend, "Boo", until they can find a way to send her back through the door to her bedroom. Verbal double meanings and situational goofiness run amuck, while a genuine heart beats at the center of the relationship brewing between the big ole' scary monsters and their "victim". The writing is really impressive in that respect, striking a balance between physical and verbal humor that jives well in both age groups, while carrying a direct sense of warmth underneath Sulley's almost parent-like attachment to his little friend. It's heartwarming when "Boo" gives Sulley a nickname -- "Kitty" -- after he's the odd man out during Mike and Celia's gushiness, giving the big, bashful lug a sense of happiness while he's scaring the daylights out of kids for a living.

Though the Pixar creative team have done an astounding job with the visual construction of Monstropolis and the logistics of the scream factory, Monsters, Inc. wouldn't be nearly as spectacular without the pitch-perfect vocal casting. Billy Crystal embodies the little, round Mike Wazowski with the right level of erratic chaos that he's brought his live-action characters, playing off of John Goodman's affable styling with Sulley impeccably. Chunks of the slapstick Laurel and Hardy dynamic can be seen in their welcoming dynamic, along with glimmers of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis for good measure. Yet, they've got their own mannerisms that make Mike and Sulley their own personalities, transforming them into another successful comedic duo for the books. It doesn't stop there, though; along with James Coburn voicing Mr. Waternoose with the right raspy age, Jennifer Tilly's sweet yet hissing disposition as Celia, and an only mildly-recognizable turn from Steve Buschemi as the slithery, cutthroat Randall, the rest of the cast land their roles beautifully. Not to mention Boo, who absolutely bubbles with cheeky youth as she sings intelligibly in an echoic bathroom and screams at the top of her lungs when she can't have her little stuffed animal.

Once Monsters, Inc. gets started down the pathway of quick-paced scrambling and physical humor through their slips and follies, it never stops until the upbeat credits roll. A sense of simple immediacy -- getting a little kid home safe and sound -- coasts the picture amiably to the finish, allowing for the inspired visual design and pitch-perfect vocals to cast a spell on the audience. Boy, does it work, leaving us with tender moments and laughs abound as some rather exciting chases, including the final door-dangling wrap-up, that send our trio blitzing all across Monsters, Inc. and Monstropolis. Moreover, its quirky little twists and sappy turns at the end are sublimely executed, simply adding onto its crowd-pleasing lovableness in the 11th hour. Monsters, Inc. is a straightforward story gushing with excitement and unbridled joy, giving us fistfuls of laughs and smiles throughout its cleverness. And that's just for the adults; but don't worry, the kids'll eat it up too.

The Blu-ray:

Pictured: Four-disc Blu-ray Set, old Collector's Edition DVD

Presented from Disney in a lush four-disc set, Monsters, Inc. comes with a very attractive slipcover adorning the thick-style Blu-ray case. They're always very mindful when it comes to making their home video presentations feel like they're offering a huge bang for the buck. Here's the disc breakdown:

Disc 1: Blu-ray Feature Presentation
Disc 2: Blu-ray Special Features
Disc 3: DVD (Same as Disc 1 of Collector's Ed.)
Disc 4: Digital Copy

Video and Audio:

Disney's presentations of Pixar's films in high-definition have become some of the most reliably sublime discs on the market as far as quality goes, and this Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray is certainly no exception. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio within a 1080p AVC treatment, it can be ratcheted up there with the likes of Wall-E and Ratatouille for its perfection in digital translation. It's oftentimes difficult to discuss something that's as pristine as this, other than to say that every single one of Sulley's blue-and-purple hair follicles can be seen waving in motion, the absolutely ludicrous amount of textures within the image leap off the screen with detail, and the beautiful palette maintains its candy-coated, rainblow blasts of color with extreme pop. Motion is handled perfectly, contrast never fluctuates, and everything simply remains beautiful in strikingly demo-worthy fashion -- just as expected straight from the digital source. Put bluntly, it's stunning.

Audio for Monsters, Inc. comes in a robust DTS HD Master Audio track that's almost as magnificent as the transfer. Robust from start to finish, this new Disney home theater mix offers a full home theater experience with both light and hefty effects fully in mind. The lower-frequency bass channel receives a few full-throttles rumbles -- such as the destruction of a sock under a bubble explosive unit -- but most of the bass quality comes in strategic usage of mid-range bass, such as Sulley's workout at the beginning of the picture. Throughout the picture, whether in the streets of Monstropolis or in the Antarctic, surround activity really flushes the sound stage, tossing out well-pitched and undistorted effects that really engage the ears. The only place where the audio has an microscopic issue comes in verbal clarity; in a handful of sequences, Billy Crystal and John Goodman's voices are mixed just a hair lower than the other sound elements. That's if we're being nit-picky on an overwhelmingly impressive Master Audio track, one that matches the transfer to exceptional degrees. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are available, as well as English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.

Special Features:

Filmmakers Round Table (21:35, HD):
Director Pete Docter and crew sit around and reminisce on the creative process behind making Monsters, Inc. First, they discuss the place of the monkey in the grand scheme of things, working on the first teaser trailer, and storyboarding their initial interpretations of the Scream Floor. Then, discussion falls on the "economics" behind scream energy, figuring out the time zones, as well as the "door storage". Later, they discuss very early designs for Mike and Sulley, as well as the design for the background monsters. Finally, they start to discuss Billy Crystal and John Goodman, the process of getting them in a Pixar project -- along with Crystal's "regret" in not taking another role -- and voicing Boo.

Audio Commentary (from SD):
Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, and Lee Unkrick sit down and discuss the picture's history, its origins, connecting with the audience, and evolving ideas within "boarding" sequences. They focus on individual sequences, latching onto their original concepts, and the getting ideas across to both please audiences and establish things going on in the film. They discuss introductions of the characters, who originated some of the concepts, and the overall "Exposition" of the film. It's not one for the kids, obviously, but movie geeks will love hearing the duo go over their realizations.

Mike's New Car (3:47, 4x3 HD):
Winner of Best Animated Short at the 2002 Academy Awards, "Mike's New Car" brings John Goodman and Billy Crystal back in their roles for 15 minutes of fun involving Mike's brand new, bright yellow car. It's a cute slapstick comedy with all of the charm from the film itself. It's available with a commentary from the filmmaker's sons.

Ride and Go Seek: Monstropolis in Japan (7:58, HD):
This featurette dives into the ride available in Japan, featuring interviews with Pete Docter and crew on construction the perpetually-10:23pm flashlight ride.

For the Birds (3:28, HD):
This cute mini-Pixar feature, shown before Monsters, Inc. theatrically, is a funny little piece about a group of space-greedy birds trying to get rid of a larger bird from their telephone wire. It's not a personal favorite of the shorts. It's available with a commentary from director Ralph Eggleston.

Also available are a series of Sneak Peeks at other Disney films, including ones for Up, Toy Story 3, and the highly-anticipated Ponyo (on the Cliff by the Sea) Blu-ray/DVD -- which looks astounding. It's worth noting that the DVD Disc contains the Special Effects 5.1 track available on the previous Collector's Edition, though the track itself isn't available to watch with the HD presentation. At least it's still there.


On Disc 2 (Without Humans Only / Monsters Only Doors):

Pixar Fun Factory Tour (3:34):
John Lasseter takes us through the "new" (at least, it was when the piece was shot) Pixar Studio. Essentially, it'll make anybody imagineable want to work at the company, taking us through all of the filmmaker's offices and the many other attractions in the site. It shows us the screening room, the storyboard locations, and the amount of fun they have making their movies.

Included under this tab are the Story is King (2:00, 4x3) portion that discusses evolving the film from dialogue and storyboards and the Monsters are Real (1:29, 4x3) part that involves interviews from all the cast and crew about the realism of monsters. Along with that, we've got a fascinating Original Treatment (13:40, 16x9) that shows how the film was first pitched as a concept (and a whole world of differences between the first ideas and the film, as well as a Story Pitch: Back To Work (4:39) portion where Bob Peterson presents storyboards for the scene where Mike and Sulley sneak Boo into the factory.

Banished Concepts (Deleted Scenes):
Five scenes are discussed and dissected in length by Co-Director Lee Unkrick and how/ why they were removed from the film. They are: Assistant Sulley, End of Day, Bad Scare, Scream Refinery, and the original Sulley introduction. Especially interesting is the Sulley intro, which offers a different take on the character that, really, could've substituted the previous one in the film rather well -- with a lack of Mike character development, of course.

Storyboard to Film Comparison (5:14, 16x9):
Three options are available under this tab for the Boo bedtime scene -- Storyreel, Final Color, and Split Screen comparison. The last function compares the storyboards to actual footage from the film, moving the sketches along at the same space of time as the film itself.

Art Gallery:
Several functions are available here, each one with high-resolution scans of the original materials. It includes character sketches (24 different options), a color script, original concept art, and several posters and other marketing material. The amount of artwork at-hand here is sensational, ranging from rough draw-outs to beautiful watercolor and mixed media constructions. It's all available in individual segments or with a Play All function.

Many different options revolving around the actual animation process are available here, starting with a quick Introduction to the Animation Process (3:11, 4x3). It leads into Early Tests (8:02, 4x3 Letterbox) portion with commentary, then gets to the actual pieces used in the film. It's segmented into Opening Title Animation (2:06, 4x3), Hard Parts (4:58, 4x3) such as animating Sulley's hair, Shots Department (2:16, 4x3) which covers simulations, and the Production Demonstration of the "23-19!" scene.

Music & Sound:
Two features are available under this tab: Billy Crystal and John Goodman singing "If I Didn't Have You" under the Monster Song (4:13, 4x3) option -- including footage of them in the booth singing -- and a Sound Design (4:16, 4x3) piece focusing on sound designer Gary Rydstrom at Skywalker Ranch.

Also available are the Designing Monstropolis (2:51, 4x3) mini-featurette, a Set Dressing Intro (3:22, 4x3) that covers making each of the raw sets looking "lived-in", a Location Flyarounds (7:25, 4x3) bit that shows 360 degree / panning models of the film's locations, both a Cast of Characters (5:51, 4x3) introduction to the performers and a "What Makes a Great Monster" (1:24, 4x3) bits under the Monster File option. Finally, a slew of Trailers and TV Spots are available, along with footage from The Premiere of Monsters, Inc.

Monsters Only:

New Monster Adventures includes Monster TV Spots (1:13, 4x3) that take Mike, Sulley and the monster crew as they do quick TV spots for holidays / sporting events, as well as including a Japanese "Rock, Paper, Scissors" randomized game called Ponkickies 21 and the "If I Didn't Have You" Music Video.

Behind the Screams (2:33, 4x3) tosses us an "On the Job with Mike and Sulley" (2:31) interview with the twosome as they conduct some interview time with the movie's news station. It's actually pretty funny, especially with Mike locking up at first.

Finally, Orientation introduces us to the Monsters, Inc. crew, with a Welcome to Monsters,Inc. (0:58, 4x3) welcome video, a Your First Day (3:34, 4x3) overview of the company, and a History of Monster World (1:36, 16x9) that that teaches us of the "mans" and the "mons". The best thing about these three pieces, aside from being entertaining, are that many of the concept sketches are repurposed to great lengths.

Lastly, we've got the kid-minded Roz's 100 Door Challenge interactive game. It mixes math skills with trivia from the film, and it literally goes through 100 doors. Thankfully, progress can be saved via the BD-Java storage.

Final Thoughts:

Long story short? Monsters, Inc. is simply a wonderful slice of animation, filled with lots of attractive visuals, plenty of slapstick gags, and the pitch-perfect Pixar charm that's continued to persevere for many years now. Billy Crystal and John Goodman's vocals are matched perfectly with Mike and Sulley, as with the rest of the star-packed cast. It's cheeky yet mildly smart charisma hasn't faded in the slightest, and still remains a favorite from the company. Disney's Blu-ray presents Monsters, Inc. in a phenomenal package with near-faultness visual and aural punch and a spilling-from-the-seams cornucopia of special features. For all that, and the fact that Pete Docter's picture hasn't lost its edge one bit upon many viewings, this is an abundantly impressive package that's earned DVDTalk's Collector Series endorsement -- both for fans of the film and for fans of animation in general.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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