I have nothing bad to say about the new Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray release. The movie is great, the package is great…everything is great. I can’t say anything cynical or smart-alec-y. Oh well, maybe I’ll get to review Cinderella 4: Mice in Space next.
Since its release in 2001, Monsters, Inc. has sat near the top of the Pixar pecking order, up there with The Incredibles and Toy Story. A viewing eight years later on Blu-ray does nothing to change that assessment. This isn’t just a great animated movie, a great Pixar movie, a great family movie; it’s a great movie, period.
Representing a great leap forward, the visuals were the most impressive of any Pixar film to that point and still hold up remarkably well despite the recent advances in technology and experience. The monster world inhabited by Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) is fully formed and realized with tons of jokes, stimulus, and detail.
Of course, with any Pixar film, the story is the thing, and there is an exciting and funny one here. Sulley is the champion “scarer” in the monster world. That’s important, as kid’s screams are converted to power. However, when Boo, a small girl, follows Sulley back into the monster world, Sulley and Mike must do whatever they can to get rid of her, as kids are believed to be toxic to monsters.
Actually, presented like that, the story doesn’t seem either exciting or funny, but that’s why I don’t write for Pixar. Director Pete Docter and co-directors Lee Unkrich and David Silverman (The Simpson’s Movie) pack each scene with humor and emotion. Not only is the relationship between Sulley and Mike funny, but Boo’s arrival puts their relationship to the test and gives a strong boost to the importance of friendship without seeming maudlin. Sulley and Boo have a parent/child-type relationship, and Boo is almost overly cute and sweet, but you have to be more hard-hearted than me not to be affected by the end of this movie.
Don’t go thinking that this is all talk, talk, cry, cry, hug, hug, though. The door-chase scene is one of the most exciting on film and certainly rivals anything in animation. You don’t feel the Pixar animators are just showing off, either, as it so often feels in lesser works. It really puts you on the edge of your seat.
Bonnie Hunt, Jennifer Tilly, and James Coburn add fantastic voice work, and Steve Buscemi is a truly slimy villain as Sulley’s “scare” competition, Randall. While I often decry to the use of “name” voice work rather than letting professional and more anonymous voice actors do the work and allow you to go deeper into the fantasy, I wish Buscemi could play every animated villain. He’s less ominous than insinuating. You keep looking for the knife in your back when he’s around.
Great visuals, great story, great humor, great action, great voice work. There are minor quibbles, but mostly not worth bringing up. This is just a strong family movie (although a bit scary at times), and on Blu-ray (as noted below) you cannot go wrong.
Monsters, Inc. really benefits from a HD Blu-ray release. The picture is stupendous, amazing, crisp, powerful, brilliant, and many other adjectives that exceed my meager vocabulary. This is really the way the movie was meant to and should be seen. Along with the recent Snow White release, this movie is the reason any Disney or Pixar fan should be thinking about upgrading to HD if they aren’t already there. The sound, which plays such a big part in the excitement (especially in the big chase at the end) is…well, stupendous, amazing, crisp, etc. etc. I’m not sure why DTS Master Audio 5.1 sounds great, but it really does.
In addition to containing Monsters, Inc.'s first appearance on HD and a full bonus disc of Blu-ray extras, the release also includes a DVD version of the film an electronic copy. A lot of the extras are held over from a 2001 release of the DVD, but there are some new items as well, and while they don’t knock your socks off, the whole package leaves almost nothing to be desired.
The new items that were created just for this Blu-ray release include a 22 minute “Filmmakers Roundtable.” Director Pete Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich, producer Darla Anderson, and story editor Bob Peterson (who also voiced Roz) sit and reminisce about the making of the film and some general “working at Pixar” types of anecdotes. It serves like a short commentary without the film part, and sometimes the topics seem a bit haphazard. You do get the sense that if you sat down with this group in a diner and asked them to talk randomly about Monsters, Inc. memories, you’d get something similar.
The other new items are a 12-minute overview of a Monsters, Inc.-themed ride at Tokyo Disneyland. The whole thing comes across as mostly an ad for the theme park, but it does give you a good look at the ride, so if you are interested in looking at a theme park ride you may never ride, this is the extra for you. Disney park freaks may love this. There is also a game called “Roz’s 100 Door Challenge.” You answer questions and eventually are given a job at the scare factory. It’s not really impressive, but it will entertain the smaller kids.
In addition to the new items, there are tons of carryover material, including an excellent commentary. Docter, Unkrich, and executive producers Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter provide a wealth of behind-the-scenes detail and information. They don’t seem to be in the same room at the same time, but it all flows pretty well. The first disc also contains the “For the Birds” and “Mike’s New Car” shorts. I have always thought “For the Birds” and “Gerry’s Game” are the best of all the Pixar shorts. “Mike’s New Car” is ok, although I never thought much of it and prefer Pixar’s non-affiliated shorts (those not using characters from a full length feature.)
The material on disc two (after the new game) includes a section called “Monsters Only” that primarily has material using the film’s characters in other contexts. This includes television channel bumpers or a Japanese children’s game show (that’s about the only way I can describe it). There are also “interviews” with the characters, “orientation” footage as if you were a new employee working at the factory, and an overview of how the monster world started. Most of the individual items are very short, and the whole thing is just a little over 10 minutes, but it is fun to see the characters in different contexts.
Although accessed separately, you also get a variety of production featurettes. These include concept design, story, virtual props, animation, music, and the theatrical release. Some of them are broken into subparts, but altogether they take about two hours to watch fully. The level of detail is pretty impressive and geared definitely for either older kids and adults. The younger kids will mostly want to stick with the “Monsters Only” material. The most interesting items are the information about how things are animated (cool!) and what is called the “Original Treatment.” This is a pitch for the movie that was created early on. The difference between the pitch and the final product in terms of character and story focus is pretty amazing.
Rather than calling the deleted scenes by that name, they are called “Banished Concepts.” This is primarily because four of the five scenes feature Sulley as an apprentice scarer, rather than as the most famous scarer of all. As is the case with most deleted animation scenes, they are primarily storyboarded rather than animated. However, the original introduction of Sulley is almost fully animated. You also get one scene where Boo is in Sulley and Mike’s apartment the first night, which you can watch as a storyboard, as the finished scene, or in a split screen of the two.
The remaining extra, besides a huge picture and artwork gallery and some trailers, is a four-minute overview of Pixar’s headquarters. Somewhat out of date these days, it’s still interesting although somewhat contrived and lacking any direct connection to the movie.
As you can see, there is just a lot of stuff. But even if there weren’t, this would be an excellent Blu-ray due to the quality of the movie, picture, and sound. It’s just a must-have in every way.