Monsters, Inc. is one of those films that adults either accept entirely or dismiss just as directly. Children, on the other hand, are devoid of adult cynicism and are onboard from the outset in what was Pixar’s most ambitious project to date when it arrived in 2001.
The concept behind the adventures of monsters Sulley and Mike is both preposterous and yet endearing. They live in a parallel world of Monstropolis, which is entirely powered by the energy released by young children when they scream uncontrollably. The Monsters use an elaborate system of door portals to enter children’s bedrooms and scare the wits out of them to collect the energy they need.
This methodology has worked well for many years until one of Sulley’s scream-inducing missions goes horribly awry when a little girl, ‘Boo’, follows him back to Monstropolis, and complete chaos ensues.
There are numerous things about this movie I adore, but right at the top of my list is the voice talents of Billy Crystal and John Goodman who deliver some superb comic timing to Sulley and Mike, respectively. Crystal in particular inhabits his terminally paranoid character with infectious optimistic zeal, overreacting to the appearance of Boo in feverishly demented fashion. He describes the irresistibly cute Boo as “a killing machine”.
While it might not have the subtle underpinning references of, say, The Incredibles or the scintillating movement of Ratatouille, it’s by far the funniest Pixar movie so far and has some of the strongest characters they’ve yet committed to film.
But it’s not just the stars that are on form here, as both Steve Buscemi as nemesis Randall Boggs and the late (and great) James Coburn as mentor Mr. Waternoose are both exceptionally good foils for our alternative heroes.
Where this movie goes slightly away from the previous Pixar productions is in the complexity of the CGI, which is on another level above what they’d presented with Toy Story (1 & 2) and A Bug’s Life. To achieve the challenging rendering schedule of those movies lots of tricks were employed like pre-rendered backgrounds, but in Monsters, Inc. the computing power not only reduced the need for these but also allowed fur and hair to be a practicality. The same year Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was also released and Dr. Aki Ross’ hair in that production accounted for some 20% of the computing time needed to render the movie. It was such an overhead that one of the production animators reportedly commented that she’d be redesigned to be bald if they ever did a sequel. The fur on Sulley in Monsters, Inc. is just amazing and gives the character a very appealing yet bizarre appearance.
The subject of which conveniently brings me to the Blu-ray release, in which you can see every digital follicle on him. The picture quality here is quite stunning. So good, in fact, that I’m tempted to say we’ve got another reference candidate here. But it’s not just the clarity of the images, but the luscious colour saturation that makes the images leap out at you. Sit any youngster in front of this on a big TFT and they’ll be entirely mesmerised for the 93-minute running time.
Older and more discerning viewers will be wowed by the DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack which delivers more punch than I recall the original cinema mix offered.
But Disney are mindful that it’s parents that buy these things, and so they’ve provided plenty of entertainment beyond just the movie for anyone interested in animation and film production to peruse. And bucking a recent trend from other publishers, there are extras on here that are both in high definition and unique to the Blu-ray edition. Best of these is a round-table discussion between director Peter Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich, producer Darla K. Anderson and story supervisor Bob Peterson (who is also the voice of Roz). Their discussion is wide ranging and covers everything from the technical challenges faced by the team to the impact of the Twin Towers attack some sixty days before the film was due to go on release.
Also on the movie disc is a documentary about making a Monsters, Inc. ride for Disney Tokyo and a game where you get to explore 100 different mini-games hidden behind Monstropolis doors. There is also an audio commentary track as per the DVD release and the short films For The Birds and Mike’s Car.
Disc two contains more material outlining the entire production from concept to finished film, although most of this is sourced from the DVD and in standard definition.
These things are nice, and some are typically off-the-wall contributions that only Pixar includes. But most people will actually buy this pack for the movie, which is justification enough for the modest outlay.
If, like me, you love animation then you’ll be ordering this disc irrespective of what anyone says and probably wondering when The Incredibles will also be gracing your HD collection.
Monsters, Inc. is out on Blu-ray now.