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Monsters, Inc.

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios (November 2 2001), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (November 10 2009), 2 Blu-ray Discs plus DVD and Digital Copy, 92 minutes plus supplements, 1080p high definition 1.85:1 widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, Rated G, Retail: $40.99

Storyboard:

James P Sullivan (John Goodman) is Monstropolis’ number one scarer at Monsters, Inc. – the company that takes the screams from sleeping kids and recycles them into energy – 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!

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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…

The Sweatbox Review:

Although DreamWorks’ Shrek eventually stole the prize for the inaugural Best Animated Feature award at the 2001 Oscars, it is rightfully Pixar’s competing film of that season that has stood the test of time more solidly, unhampered by the diminishing returns of the sequels upon sequels that the not-so-jolly green ogre has had to endure. Though rumors of a follow-up persist, the fourth collaboration between Disney and Pixar remains a true one-off, containing a real sense of awe and wonder, and what it takes to become a classic: heart. On DVD, Monsters, Inc. was well served by Disney on disc, and now, with the movie now revisited in a much-delayed Blu-ray Disc edition, the questions are really less about the movie, and more about whether this upgrade could ever improve upon that terrifically packed two-disc edition from back in the good old days when such packages meant everything including the kitchen sink was thrown in.

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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 a good following amount of the screen time. The gags are funny, the script is sharp, the performances are spot on, the story is developed, and everything seems to plod along pleasantly with no real surprises or particularly amazing stand out moments. And then it all goes ballistic as the final reel creeps in, with various story strands coming together, a twist or two, and certainly a character’s self-realisation, all leading to an exhilarating thrill ride of an ending. Monsters Inc, director Pete Docter’s first production and one that started to lay the groundwork for the more emotionally layered and confident work that Pixar would continue through Ratatouille and Docter’s own recent Up, is very much cut from the same cloth. There are some great concepts (the Harryhausen Bar!) and the whole film is brimming with fantastic bits of business and wink-wink dialogue (“no, no, don’t worry…it’s lemon!”), but when the climax kicks in, it simply blows everything that has come before – or since – out of the water!

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With Monsters Inc, Pixar 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 so far, from any studio. Monsters doesn’t have any of the contemporary pop music tunes that will date the likes of Shrek, and skews to a slightly younger audience than that movie, but is consistently more inventive. And, unlike the forced acceptance of a world of Cars, for example, the fact that we are asked to believe that monsters really do exist in the dark shadows of night isn’t something hard to swallow, along the same lines as toys that come to life, bugs that have their own social communities on a miniature scale, or the oceanic life of fish. If there was any doubt about what lies in the closet when the lights go out, Monsters, Inc. provides the answers, though does so with the usual, gently-humored approach that Pixar excels at.

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The animation is, as you would expect, top-notch, and the Goodman-voiced 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 computer animation, and is a thrilling end to what remains one of the Studio’s most finely crafted of its features. If one were able to even begin to try and start awarding the still-contemporary Pixar films with some level of classic status, Monsters, Inc. would certainly be one of those at the top of the list!

Is This Thing Loaded?

The original two-disc Collectors’ Edition of Monsters, Inc. was a doozy of a set, featuring a huge amount of supplemental material, and this Blu-ray edition is about to do the same thing all over again with a mixture of high definition (HD) and standard definition (SD) material. We’ve all been impressed with the Pixar BDs so far, especially the innovative Cine-Explore feature that’s a high-end Disney mainstay, but this to my knowledge is the first time we’ve been presented with a second high-definition disc of supplements. That’s right, folks, Monsters, Inc. – and the concurrently released set for Pixar’s latest, Up – comes loaded with two loaded Blu-ray Discs, plus the first disc of the original DVD set, and a Digital Copy disc to play this impressively detailed movie on a screen where all that rendering of Sulley’s individual hair all goes to pot.

Although I usually run down the features to be found on a set’s DVD disc when dealing with this so-called combo packs, the excitement of two BDs is too much to wait for, so what’s on ’em? Blu-ray Disc One begins with skippable previews, in HD, for Toy Story 3, Up and the spine-tingling preview for Dumbo, with Santa Buddies, Ponyo and a couple of Disney promo spots optional from the Sneak Peek menu – what, no Princess And The Frog!?

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An introduction from director Pete Docter welcomes us into the world of Monstropolis for the start of the extras, the first of which you’ll want to check if you haven’t heard it already on the original DVD, a feature length filmmaker’s commentary with directors Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, exec producer John Lasseter and co-exec producer and writer Andrew Stanton. Although slightly disappointing that any additional on-screen embellishments haven’t been added, this is still an often insightful track, cut together from various takes and interviews, from the sounds of the background. The track 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.

As before, from the DVD but now in pin-sharp HD, is the Academy Award-winning short For The Birds, as well as the made for video short Mike’s New Car (3:47 minutes), featuring the Monsters Inc cast as voiced once again by John Goodman and Billy Crystal. Both are, as before, also playable with their own audio commentary on each, which is a nice touch, especially on Mike’s New Car, where Docter hands over the task to his appreciative and very enthusiastic sons! In keeping with its 1.33:1 production ratio, Mike’s New Car shown matted into the 1.78 HD frame, while For The Birds (3:28) is presented in native widescreen.

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New is the HD featurette Building Monstropolis at Tokyo Disneyland (7:56), showing the development of the Ride And Go Seek attraction. While this is basically company promotion, it doesn’t come across as such, offering not only a peek at the Japanese Disney park, but explaining how a popular film such as Monsters, Inc. can authentically live on when the movie is over. Making up for the lack of Cine-Explore is the Monsters, Inc. Filmmakers’ Roundtable, a 21:35 discussion that gathers Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich, producer Darla K Anderson and story supervisor Bob Peterson at the Pixar employees favorite hangout, the Hidden City Café, to reminisce on production stories, the intricate development of ideas, the impact and repercussions of the 9/11 attacks, tough to nail and favorite scenes, and elaborate on the inexplicable placing of a chimpanzee in the original DVD’s extras!

On Blu-ray Disc Two, the big new extra is Roz’s 100-Door Challenge, a placement game that will determine your Monsters, Inc. potential and find you the perfect job at the company. Essentially one hundred questions or tests based on aspects from the movie, it’s a good time waster, though the mix of ridiculously easy and trick questions can be frustrating, especially when trying to race through for review purposes! Also offered are upscaled editions of four still-frame features from the DVD: The Monsters, Inc. Employee Handbook, 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?), Monster Of The Month and Scarer Cards, which 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!

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As with the previous DVD, the main menu is split into two “worlds”, that of the Humans and the Monsters. Heading into the Humans Only section, and this opens up the door to a variety of behind the scenes clips and featurettes, now broken up into individual sections. Leading the pack – in SD only – is the Pixar Production Tour, an introduction to the filmmakers of Monsters, Inc. (3:46). In Story, there’s a wealth of concept treatments and artwork. After the introductory Story Is King clip (2:03), 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 as a 13:40 storytelling experience with original storyboards edited to a voice over (Lasseter/Docter?) reading out the treatment, instead of the text pages we are usually offered. A 4:39 Story Pitch for the Back To Work scene is played out by story supervisor Bob Peterson (also the voice of Roz).

Banished Concepts is a series of five Deleted Scenes, presented by co-director Lee Unkrich (:32), in storyboard sequences (all now in HD), 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. A five-and-a-half minute Storyboard To Film Comparison can’t use the angle capability of DVD to allow switching between two stages of animation, so two alternate versions of the “kid-in-the-city” newsflash, with Mike and Sulley hiding from Boo in the house, are presented, as well as a third split-screen option.

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Extensive Art Galleries show a wealth of various character 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. The Color Script will be a part of the production process familiar to Pixar fans, 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, and there’s a look at all the concept and final poster artwork created in building up the big city, and promoting the film. Designing Monstropolis is a three minute behind-the-scenes peek at the development of the world of the movie, and Set Dressing Intro (3:22) shows how set designer Sophie Vincelette creates a room or background in order for it to be passed on to the animators for placing their characters within the scene.

The 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. There’s a chance to actually zoom through the sets themselves with a series of five specially rendered Location Flyarounds (7:25), which have an added air of authenticity thanks to the addition of Gary Rydstrom and Tom Myer’s atmospheric audio tracks. It’s a shame these are SD only, but check them out, especially the “tour” of Monsters, Inc., for a couple of very funny extra gags!

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In the Monster File, there’s more footage from the Production Tour material, which covers the Cast Of Characters (5:54) and the voice actors who lend them their vocals. What Makes A Good Monster? is a 1:27 look at the characters themselves and what went into their designs. Moving on to Animation, and here is where the film begins to come to life. After the Animation Process intro (3:14) 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 (5:00, labelling Tom Schumacher as president of Disney Feature Animation) 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 (2:15) takes things one step further and highlights other parts of production on which the creators felt they did their best work, and finishing up in the animation section, a Production Demo loses the angle feature from the DVD – making Unkrich’s “grab your DVD remote” intro redundant (why did they keep this?) – and instead offers the four storyreel, layout, animation and final color scenes as alternate selections, this time featuring 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 clip 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 still makes no mention of his Oscar, it does pay appropriate tribute to the songwriter and song. In Sound Design (4:16), Gary Rydstrom and Tom 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 the DVD with its 5.1 sound effects track.

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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 that 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 theatrical trailer, and the “Charades” promo, which took a gentle swipe at the then-current Harry Potter picture probably playing in the multiplex theater next door, though for some reason the original “door” teaser is missing and these look pretty crummy in letterboxed 4:3 standard definition.

International Inserts (1:08)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 (3:45, in HD) 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! A further Toys clip (1:30) 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).

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A Wrap Up winds up the Pixar Animation Tour, but again Unkrich’s parting comments are outdated to the authoring of this new BD edition, but instead of the Easter Eggs found on the DVD, a “hidden door” leads the way to several tests and gag reels, as well as more Pixar Tour footage including the crew atrium air show. Then it’s back to the main menu to enter the Monsters Only door, to find additional programming featuring the animated cast. Under New Monster Adventures, there’s a chance to see several Monster TV Treats, a collection of promo spots running just over a minute. 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 good way), and the ability to add optional subtitles at least allows you to understand the clips.

Then there’s a “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. Behind The Screams features On The Job With Mike And Sulley, 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, though very disappointingly, there seems to be an awful lot of animation dropped from the disc too: where is the fullscreen option to watch the movie’s Outtakes, which included Mike’s Company Play: Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me! that was on the DVD, along with the still image “reproduction” of Mike’s theater program for the Play, and the DVD’s very funny Easter Egg clips? Am I missing another hidden door or two, or have these simply been dropped!?

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In Orientation, you’ll be offered the chance to sign up for Monsters, Inc. yourself, Welcome To Monsters Inc playing out the entire one minute “promo” for the Monstropolis company as seen in the actual film. Your First Day is a purposely grainy looking training film (3:35), 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, drawn and narrated by Boundin’s Bud Luckey, a basic story of man and monster, and just why the monsters want to scare us all the time, now presented in HD.

With all that content already featured, you’d think that you might not even need the included single-disc DVD but, being that this disc is the very same first platter found in the previous two-disc set, you’d be wrong because one of the features not carried over to the BDs is a surround sound effects track, which plays out the entire movie allowing us to hear all the hard work that Skywalker Sound put into placing every teeny spot effect. Although it would have been nice to experience this with the HD picture, it’s better to have it at all, and the emphasis is on the audio anyway. An early attempt to appeal to “fullscreen” audiences saw Pixar re-formatting their widescreen movies for the standard 4×3 screen, and, it naturally this disc retains both the correct 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and a reformatted 4×3 edition of the movie, “specially reframed for standard televisions”.

In practice this is a strange combination of open-matte framing and straight pan-and-scanning, with characters sometimes repositioned or sometimes a slightly wider camera shot. It’s an interesting curio now that the world has, for the most part, caught on to 16×9 screens, but of course the BD sticks with that native widescreen framing only. The same Audio Commentary, THX Optimizer (and Tex Moo Cow promo), and outdated previews, all from a Sneak Peek menu that, if you leave on your screen for too long WILL leave screenburn!! Finally, the Digital Copy disc includes the film only, as a standard definition file playable on iTunes or Windows Media.

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WHAT’S MISSING?
Though I may have missed them if they were hidden options, from the original DVD I couldn’t find the fullframe versions of the end-credit Outtakes or Mike’s Company Play, which are disappointing omissions, amongst more minor material dropped here. It’s understandable that the set-top Boo’s Door Game hasn’t been carried over, but the Disney Storytime was a simple feature that was a fun read-along and featured some hidden extras. Another game missing is the DVD-ROM The Lunch Room, a 30-level hand/eye coordination effort for younger children that was well crafted. Lastly, although the still frame galleries are extensive, the Master Lighting set-ups are no longer included, which nicely provided instant switching between concept art for a scene, and the finished screen shot as seen in the movie, showing just how important concept art is in determining the final approach taken with the finished film.

All in all, while the content remains comprehensive, the original DVD authoring provided a much more seamless and engrossing experience and journey through the making of Monsters, Inc. and that the majority of supplements have not been upgraded to high definition suggests to keep hold of your old sets, which pack a little more into the mix.

Case Study:

With the Monsters, Inc. disc available, there was no real need to include it in a combo pack with this Blu-ray, but it’s here anyway, pushing up the price a little bit more for no reason when this really should have been a $29.99 reissue. In all other respects, the packaging resembles the current crop of Disney releases, being Blu-ray sized cases enclosed with a deluxe slipcover, blu-rimmed along the edges and sides. The artwork keeps the same basic concept of the posters and original DVD release, with a handful of the monsters peering around an open door. On the back, the claim that the bonuses are in HD is true to a point, though there should have been a clear indication that this only applies to the added shorts and re-scanned still frame art, as all the video based clips are SD or upscaled.

Ink And Paint:

Wow. Just…wow. While live-actions films, for me, have been the highlight of the Blu-ray format so far, Monsters, Inc. literally blows all else I have seen on the format out of the water. The original DVD was reference demo quality back in the day, but on Blu-ray the effects are stunning, more so even than its companion release of Up.

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Just as seeing Snow White free of all the print and cel debris a couple of months ago brought a whole new level of enjoyment to that film, the HD processing here brings new depth to Monsters, Inc. It really is a sight to behold, to be able to almost reach out and be able to stroke Sulley’s hair, so individual and lifelike it’s hard to grasp he is a computer generated character. If the scene where Mike and Sulley jump aboard the first of many doors in the Monsters, Inc. warehouse doesn’t make your jaw drop, then you need to get your eyes looked at, because the detailing on each individual door (and we’re talking thousands of ’em here) is just simply incredible. Best. Blu-ray. Picture. Ever.

Scratch Tracks:

A disappointment with the original DVD was the lack of a DTS track found on international versions, replaced with the fullscreen edition of the movie (well, we’d never want to be without that, right!?). Well, worry no more, since that’s been rectified with this stunning DTS-HD Master Audio experience, flying around all 5.1 channels with wild abandon. Even the quieter moments have a distinct aural quality, thanks to the impeccable work done by the team at Skywalker Sound. Almost as excellent French and Spanish subs and dubs, in Dolby 5.1, are also included.

Final Cut:

For whatever reason, Monsters, Inc. really pulled out all the stops in terms of production, animation and sound design, which is as good a reason as any as to why the film remains a timeless but essential contemporary classic. This HD upgrade provides an exceptional new animation reference benchmark for the Blu-ray format, and the final door chase scene is as good a demo as any you’ll find in the medium. But the second disc is vastly disappointing, with much of the content in standard definition, and while that’s no great shakes, ultimately, that the disc has been re-authored in a less than special way and has dropped a notable enough fraction of material is a disappointment, so hold on to your original two-disc sets for a smoother Pixar tour.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


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