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Monsters, Inc.: 2-Disc Collectors Edition

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios (November 2 2001), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (September 17 2002), 2 discs, 93 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, Rated G, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

Set in the wondrous world of Monstropolis, our heroes Mike and Sulley work for the Monsters, Inc. company that takes the screams from sleeping kids and recycles them for energy to power the big city. James P Sullivan (John Goodman) is the city’s number one scarer, his only close rival being the devious Randall (a simply slimy Steve Buscemi). The monsters have an endless collection of bedroom doors through which they are able to travel between their world and ours that allows monsters like Sulley and Randall to sneak in, scare the kids and make a quick exit. Things look good for Randall when Sulley accidentally lets a little girl from the real world into Monstropolis, causing panic within the community, as legend has it that a touch from a human child is fatal to any monsters! Sulley finds the kid too adorable to dispose of, and tries with his friend Mike (Billy Crystal) to return her to the real world. However, Randall has discovered the kid, and the longer she stays in their world, the better his chances remain that Sulley will be found out and fired. Soon Mike and Sulley find themselves hiding little Boo, as they name her, from an array of dangers in Monstropolis, not least a band of crazy exterminators and some surprising and unexpected twists and turns! All this leads to the amazing attempt to get Boo back through her own door – a door that resides in the absolutely huge warehouse storage of Monsters Inc…

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The Sweatbox Review:

The third in the trio of this year’s nominations for the first ever Best Feature Animation Oscar finally makes it to DVD, and the disc – like the film – is the best of the bunch. Sure, Shrek may have been slightly flat-out funnier and Jimmy Neutron in-your-face flashier, but Monsters Inc, the fourth collaboration between Disney and Pixar, has a real sense of awe and wonder, and what it takes to become a classic: heart. And the movie has been well served by Disney on disc – like this review, it’s all about the extras!

For me, Pixar’s films follow a peculiar pattern. They start off with a whiz-bang that really gets you excited, but then shift back into a lower gear for the majority of the film. The gags are funny, the script is sharp, the performances are spot on, and the story is developed, but it all seems to plod along pleasantly with no real surprises or amazingly stand out moments. Then it all goes ballistic as the final reel creeps in, and I found the same was true with Monsters Inc. There are some great concepts (the Harryhausens Bar!) and the whole film is brimming with fantastic bits of business (“no, no, don’t worry – it’s lemon!”), but when the climax kicks in, it simply blows everything that has come before out of the water!

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With Monsters Inc, Pixar have excelled themselves, though I still feel that as an all round piece of perfect digital entertainment, their own Toy Story 2 remains the best computer animated feature, from any studio. Monsters doesn’t have any of the contemporary pop music tunes that will date Shrek, and skews to a slightly younger audience than the green ogre movie, but is consistently more inventive. The interplay between Crystal and Goodman is not as antagonizing as the Myers/Murphy duo, relying on finer improvisation rather than simply shouting insults back at one another. Funny as that was, the comedy here has a more gentle humor about it, actually lending itself better to the story and frankly leading to some funnier remarks.

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The animation is, as you would expect, top-notch, and Sully is a masterpiece of styling, performance and character movement. Mike’s little green man approach perfectly compliments Crystal’s manic twenty-words-a-second delivery, and the whole Randall design (a very Tim Burton-Nightmare Before Christmas look here, I felt) makes your skin crawl – just as it should! The story is tight, and moves along nicely as opposed to rushing through, and that climax is one of the most exciting and involving sequences ever seen in any animated film. This is the airport conveyer belt scene from Toy Story 2 magnified, amplified, and blown-up to extreme proportions. It’s a tour de force of everything that can be done in animation and an exhilarating thrill ride. With Monsters Inc, Pixar prove once again who is king of the CG rendered hill!

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Is This Thing Loaded?

As another in the line of Disney/Pixar special collectors editions, we always knew this was going to be a doozy of a disc. There’s so much to take in here, more to see than can ever to be seen, as it were, but here goes. Starting from the outside, let’s work our way in deep…

On Disc One, it’s the main feature of course, with a choice of alternative audio tracks: a surround sound effects track, which plays out the movie allowing us to hear all the hard work that Skywalker Sound put into placing every teeny effect, as well as a filmmaker’s commentary with directors Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, exec producer John Lasseter and co-exec producer and writer Andrew Stanton. An often insightful track, it never gets really bogged down too deeply with the technicalities of making the film, offering a nicely rounded chat that is of interest to both animation enthusiasts as well as casual viewers.

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The menus for this disc have been created in the 2D 1950s style of animation that features in the opening credits, and are nicely done through the use of Randy Newman’s score and good visual timing. There is also a Scene Selection menu and a THX Optimizer (the film also opens with the Tex Moo Cow THX promo). The only thing I found a missed opportunity on this first disc was the lack of the “outtakes” sequence within the end credits. Pixar have a habit of adding the joke foul-ups several weeks into theatrical release, and although other countries get these insertions in the end-credits from day one, the DVDs are struck from the initial version of the movie. It’s a shame that these wonderful additions are not left intact in the actual movie here, in addition to being presented full-screen elsewhere.

Apart from the two added audio tracks, the first disc is fairly bare bones, the rest of the space being taken up by a reframed 4×3 version of Monsters Inc, as well as Sneak Peeks for various Disney and Pixar releases. We get an in-depth look at the Beauty And The Beast Platinum Edition, which shows off the menus and some of the special features, as well as the Beauty And The Beast Inter-Stitch-al for Lilo And Stitch’s DVD release. There is that worrying teaser for Inspector Gadget 2, the Treasure Planet theatrical teaser, and the most anticipated trailer: a look at Disney/Pixar’s next project, Finding Nemo. Presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen, I have to say I wasn’t too jazzed up by this first view of the film. The characters are animated with Pixar’s now customary astonishing attention to detail, leaving the voice cast to play out a humorous, but by-the-book, Pixar offering, which reminded me of the first “behind the door” teaser for Monsters Inc. A word of advice though: do not leave the Sneak Peek menu on your screen for too long – that giant white eye WILL leave screenburn!!

On to Disc Two, and this is where the main bunch of supplements are hiding out. The disc is split into two “worlds”, that of the Humans and the Monsters. After an intro from the crew, the main menu will also link you to the Academy Award-winning short For The Birds, as well as the new made for video short Mike’s New Car, featuring the Monsters Inc cast as voiced once again by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, plus a full-screen version of the end credit outtakes, including Mike’s Company Play: Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me! For The Birds and Mike’s New Car are also playable with audio commentary, which is a nice touch, especially on Mike’s New Car, where Pete Docter hands over the task to his appreciative and very enthusiastic children! For The Birds is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with Mike’s New Car shown full-frame. Apart from the opening titles, the rest of the New Car short seemed slightly cramped frame-wise, and I wonder if this was not also originally intended for showing in a wider ratio. However, it’s very funny, in the style of the previous Pixar shorts, with a particularly cartoon feel.

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Into the Humans Only section, and this opens up the door to a variety of behind the scenes clips and featurettes. Leading the pack is the Pixar Production Tour, a 20-minute look into the filmmaking process. This runs as one piece, but is actually made up of the introductory clips for the various sub-sections on the disc, taking us from the Studio, through Story, Monster File and Design, to final Animation. After the last section, stick around for some Easter Egg doors that will show you outtakes from the tour, plus an early animation test. You can access the opening to this Tour again from behind door number one: Pixar Fun Factory, which has John Lasseter showing us around the new animation building.

Story shows a wealth of concept treatments and artwork. After the introductory clip, Monsters Are Real has the cast and crew jokingly referring to their experiences with monsterkind, in a short clip. The Original Treatment is also available for viewing here, and this is done very nicely. Original storyboards have been edited, with voice over (Lasseter/Doctor?) reading out the treatment, instead of the text pages we are usually offered. Running almost 14 minutes, this is a breezy version of the story, which retains the basic plot but differs in several significant ways. A Story Pitch for the Back To Work scene is played out by story supervisor Bob Peterson (also the voice of Roz), and Banished Concepts is a series of four deleted scenes, presented in storyboard sequences, with the original scratch audio tracks. Some final animation that appeared differently in the film is shown in the Original Sulley Intro – not long, and not too different, but an interesting change. Finishing up in the story department is a five-and-a-half minute Storyboard To Film Comparison that utilizes the DVD angle capability to allow switching between two stages of animation, using the “kid-in-the-city” newsflash, with Mike and Sulley hiding from Boo in the house.

Over in the Monster File, there’s more footage from the Production Tour used as an intro, which covers the Cast Of Characters and the voice actors who lend them their vocals. What Makes A Good Monster? is a look at the characters themselves and what went into their designs. As a companion to that clip, the extensive Character Design Galleries show the various concepts, both used and abandoned, as a series of still frame images, and it is intriguing to see the different approaches that went into the final look for each character.

There is more artwork on show in the Design section itself, though this concentrates more on the look of Monsters Inc, and the city of Monstropolis. Setting The Scene is a three-and-a-half minute behind-the-scenes peek at how a set designer at Pixar creates a room or background in order for it to be passed on to the animators for placing their characters within the scene. The viewer is able to “step through” these scenes using the next-button on the DVD remote, to get a closer look at the various elements that are added step-by-step to make a “set” look real. The Color Script will be a part of the production process familiar to Pixar fans. This is where an artist takes the movie script and designs painted images whose color relays the type of tone and feel the scene needs to be successful.

Master Lighting is a nice idea and well executed, allowing instant switching between concept art for a scene, and the finished screen shot as seen in the movie. This feature shows just how important concept art is in determining the final approach taken with the finished film. There’s a chance to actually zoom through the sets themselves with a series of five specially rendered Location Flyarounds, which have an added air of authenticity thanks to the addition of Gary Rydstrom and Tom Myer’s atmospheric audio tracks. Check these out, especially the “tour” of Monsters Inc, for a couple of very funny extra gags! Finally, there is a Monstropolis Art Gallery, a look at all the concept and final artwork created in building up the big city, and a Guide To In-Jokes, where all of the major insider gags are revealed (for instance, did you know that Boo’s real name was Mary, after Boo’s voice actress, Mary Gibbs?)

Moving on to Animation, and here is where the film begins to come to life. After the introduction from the Studio Tour footage, there is an extensive 8-minute look at early tests for the film, with some very different looking main characters. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but do check these out, as they are fascinating to watch. Next up is a two-minute clip on the Opening Title Animation, taking in some original ideas (check out title director Geefwee Boedoe’s chin hair!) and the reason for starting the movie in this way. Hard Parts has the animators, directors and producers reminiscing about the tougher problems they had to face during production, such as Sulley’s amazingly life-like fur, and seemingly simple things like Boo’s T-shirt. The Shots Department clip takes things one step further and highlights other parts of production on which the creators felt they did their best work. Finishing up in the animation section, a Production Demo again uses the angle feature on DVD players to switch between storyboard, layout, animation and final color, this time on the “23-19 situation” scene.

We’re slowly coming towards a finished movie with the production process, so our next stop is Music And Sound. Here you’ll find a three-minute section on the Monsters Inc Oscar-nominated score and Oscar-winning Best Song, If I didn’t Have You by Randy Newman. Nominated 14 times for Academy Award recognition, it was fantastic to see Newman finally win this year for his contribution to Monsters Inc, and although this clip makes no mention of the Oscar, it does pay appropriate tribute to the songwriter and song. In Sound Design, Rydstrom and Myers let us into Skywalker Ranch to learn about some of the sources they used to create a selection of sounds in the final film. This four-minute clip makes a nice introductory piece to watching the movie on disc one with its 5.1 sound effects track. Ending our visit to the sound studio is a look at Binaural Recording, a different audio taping process that is optimised for headphone reproduction. This demo puts you right in the center of a cue from Newman’s score, and although the demo is great, it might have been better to also offer the film or at least the music score on a separate track in this way, to fully appreciate the technique.

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Now we reach the final stage of Monsters Inc’s journey to the screen: the Release. Post-production has been completed, the effects have been rendered and the audio mixed; it’s time for the Premiere. A one-minute clip runs like a promo for the premiere itself, a zippy, slick and over-far-too-soon look at the event at Disney’s El Capitan theater. In Trailers And TV Spots, in addition to four brief TV promos, you’ll find the original theatrical “door” teaser, the full trailer, and the third “Charades” promo, which took a gentle swipe at the then-current Harry Potter picture probably playing in the multiplex theater next door! Accompanying the trailers is a selection of advertising artwork in the Poster Gallery, which also includes some of the themed posters that were issued periodically to tie in with Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Superbowl. My favorite one makes use of Monsters Inc’s great tagline, “you won’t believe your eye”!

The Toys clip is a blatant attempt to shift a few more Monsters Inc stuffed dolls, although it is fun to see the creators trying to come up with a non-commercial reason why they chose to market toys from the film (though there’s no escaping the fact that the billion dollar merchandising industry probably did have something to do with it). International Inserts is a fascinating look at the various changes that logos, signs and text goes through in order for Pixar to tailor their films for release in various foreign countries, a tradition that has its beginning way back in Walt Disney’s original 1937 release of Snow White. The Multi-Language Clip Reel further explains the extent to which these films go to fit the vocals to the country of release, while keeping in style with the original voice actors’ intentions. While listening to the multitude of voices on offer, I noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a translation for “Harryhausen”, thus proving what a wide reach the animation effects genius has! Completing our visit to the Release section, and to the Human world, is another link to the movie’s joke Outtakes.

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After all of that, how about hopping back to the main menu for some fun-for-fun’s sake goodies? Enter the Monsters Only door, and you’ll find additional programming featuring the animated cast. Under New Monster Adventures, there’s another chance to see the Mike’s New Car short, as well as several Monster TV Treats, a collection of promo spots running just over a minute. Then there’s the “music video” for If I Didn’t Have You, the duet penned by Randy Newman and sung here by Goodman and Crystal, which isn’t so much a full-length promo as it is a one minute push for the CD soundtrack. Ponkickies 21 is a couple of amusing segments produced by Pixar for a Japanese children’s series similar to Sesame Street. They are a nice couple of additions and the difference in limited and full CG animated are very much apparent (but in a nice way), and the ability to add optional subtitles at least allows you to understand the clips. Boo’s Door Game is a set-top adventure for young kids, where they must find the parts of Boo’s Door (no surprise there!) in various rooms around the world and help piece it back together. Disney Storytime is a simple feature that relates a basic version of the film’s story either as a read-it-yourself or as a fun read-along, which features some hidden extras!

In Orientation, you’ll be offered the chance to sign up for Monsters Inc yourself! Welcome To Monsters Inc plays out the entire “promo” for the Monstropolis company, as seen in the actual film. Your First Day is a purposely grainy looking training film, as corporate as they come, complete with cheesy background music, dated graphics and happy employees gushing with joy at working for the biggest company in the city – hey, you’ll fit right in! The History Of Monster World is another funny little clip, a basic story of man and monster, and why the monsters want to scare us all the time! The final three features, The Monsters Inc Employee Handbook, Monster Of The Month and the Scarer Cards are the Pixar/Disney DVD team having a little fun, offering a joke guide to working at Monsters Inc, the top scarer for the past year, and some inspired “collectible” trading cards, with particularly funny readings and remarks from Smitty and Needleman. Also, you might notice that many of the secondary monsters have been named after artists working at Pixar!

Finishing up this exhausting trip around the world of Monsters Inc – the company and the film – is one of the funniest hidden features I’ve come across. Within the Monsters Only menu, highlight New Monsters Adventures, and then shift right and this should highlight the “eye” in the Monsters Inc logo. Select this option, and you’ll be treated to an almost real Easter egg – and a terrific way to leave the comical and whimsical world of Pixar!

As if all that wasn’t enough, insert the second disc into a PC drive for even more monstrous fun, in particular the full DVD-ROM game, The Lunch Room. We’re presented with a pretty decent custom menu page, featuring Boo surround by various monsters, with repeat links to the set-top interactive features Boo’s Door Game and the Disney Storybook. The main Lunch Room game seems to be a level from the promoted Monsters Inc Scream Team Training CD-ROM, which was released when the film hit theaters late last year. It’s a shame that the disc does not include the few freebie games that were given away in various promotions, or any online games, but The Lunch Room is a good example, and features a nice introduction from Sulley (though not, I wonder, voiced by Goodman here). The game really has little to do with Mike or Sulley, but does a good job of co-ordinating children’s hand/eye movement, and the speed of the game progresses over 30 accessible levels, providing good entertainment for the younger set.

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Behind The Screams features the Outtakes clip yet again, plus a full still image “reproduction” of Mike’s theater program for his Company Play, a very funny comical addition. On The Job With Mike And Sulley is a two-and-a-half minute “special report” from “Channel 13”, which quizzes our two monsters about their job at Monsters Inc. It seems to be another piece of new animation created for the disc, and more Monsters is no bad thing at all!

Case Study:

Unfortunately, unlike previous collectors Disney titles, such as the Pixar collaboration A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc is presented in a slimline two-disc case rather than the double-sized and more substantial boxes of the other releases. Not a major problem, although this does have a subconscious effect in that the package doesn’t feel “big” enough. After much discussion on the web about the various front sleeve images that went floating around, Disney/Pixar have plumped for a simple design with the main duo Mike and Sully peering around an open door, with the shadow of Boo gazing towards them quizzically. I liked this approach, as it plays on the double-act of our heroes, as well as keeping an air of mystery intact. The colors are quite muted, and it’s a nice understated cover.

On the back we get a brief overview of the discs’ contents, and one of the things that will cause a slight disappointed among various audiophiles will be the distinct lack of any DTS track. This has supposedly been dropped to accommodate the cropped full-screen version of the movie – and we wouldn’t want to be without that, would we?

Inside, you’ll find a savings and promotion envelope containing offers and inserts promoting a number of Disney specials, and a 12-page “navigation guide” of the same type that has graced previous special edition discs from Disney. At first the amount on offer can be a daunting proposition, but take it all as it comes and soon you’ll be immersed.

Ink And Paint:

Just as you would expect, the video on this release is as good as it gets. The back packaging points to the fact that this is a digital film, mastered digitally and presented here in a digital transfer (as with older CD releases, we get the “DDD” confirmation on the sleeve). Presented in both its correct 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and full-screen versions, the 4×3 transfer has been “specially reframed for standard televisions”. I’m not sure why they went to all the trouble, to be honest, as a 1.85:1 frame would not lack as much image area as the 2.35:1 of A Bug’s Life, for example, which did make a good job out of recomposing the characters and props to create a “true” 1.33:1 version.

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Needless to say, I went for the 1.85:1 in order to see the film as it was intended. It’s perhaps not as sharp as the Bug’s Life transfer, and I felt a very minor “softness” about the whole image, but the brightness and clarity is still outstanding, and you can almost touch Sulley’s fur. The 1.33:1 framed version is a strange combination of open-matte framing and true pan-and-scanning, with characters sometimes reframed, and sometimes a slightly wider camera shot. The difference is evident right from the opening shot, which actually shows more left, right, top and bottom of the image over the widescreen ratio. After that, though, things settle down, and it’s soon apparent that the 1.85:1 version is more natural and balanced.

Scratch Tracks:

It could be due to the fact that Pixar was once part and parcel of George Lucas’ company, but all of their films (including the first shorts) have ended up being mixed by the team at Skywalker Sound. They again do a sterling job here, and obviously jumped at the chance to work with so much imagination on show. The Dolby EX-encoded sound is active throughout, and really kicks in with the big sequences. A great way to hear the work they put in on the film is with the added 5.1 sound effects only track (also in EX), which is often great fun, though the inclusion of this track coupled with the otherwise redundant 4×3 ratio version has meant the loss of something a little more appealing: the DTS track found on widescreen-only international versions. Interestingly to note that both this surround effects track, and the additional commentary will only play with the widescreen option, leaving no doubt as to which version the filmmakers feel is the correct one!

Final Cut:

For animation and Disney/Pixar fans, this has to be a no-brainer. Everything you could possibly want to know about Monsters Inc is in here, and the film itself is presented in a very nice and solid transfer. It’s a shame that region one viewers lose the DTS track in trade for the additional 4×3 version (if people want full-screen, let them stick to VHS!), but the Dolby track is very active and pumping your amp bass up a little would probably compensate for the lack of any deeper punch that might have come in having the extra audio option. There is some overlap between sections in the supplementary material, not least the same clips available from various menus, and overall I felt that this was, ultimately like the other CG monster movie of the year Shrek, really a pretty good 1-and-a-half disc edition brought up to two discs with some padded extra features. There is a lot to enjoy in both the film and the extras, with the commentary perhaps being the most interesting aspect of the bonus features on offer to collectors. At the end of it all, you may feel a little Monster’ed-out, but you will have had a really fun trip!

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

monsters11.jpg MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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