"Monsters Inc" Blu-ray: We Scare in High-Definition Because We Care
Monsters Inc. has taken up permanent residence on my “Top 5 Pixar Movies” list, jockeying for position with both Toy Story movies and The Incredibles. In addition to the personal reasons I’ll discuss later, the movie is thoroughly charming and hilariously funny, while also using the fantastic elements of the story to wittily comment on our world without seeming preachy or heavy-handed. The movie has just been re-released on Blu-ray disc, but those hoping for a massive new super-deluxe extended dance remix version are going to be a little disappointed. While it offers up a smattering of new bonus features, the real highlight is still the movie itself, beautifully remastered in high-definition video and sound.
Like the Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc. revolves around a truth that all kids know: there are monsters hiding in the closet, waiting to scare us out of our wits. What the kids of the world don’t know is that the monsters are only doing their 9-to-5 jobs of turning kids’ screams into energy to power the bustling city of Monstropolis. Furthermore, the monsters are deeply terrified of the kids, thinking that they’re toxic and dangerous enough to warrant a rapid-response Child Detection Agency, clad in yellow rubber hazmat suits and tasked with ensuring that the monsters’ world is not contaminated by even the slightest stray human belonging. The movie centers on Monsters Inc.’s top scarer James P. “Sully” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and his scare floor manager Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). The competition between Sully and the second-place Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) ultimately leads to a child (adorably performed by Mary Gibbs) entering the world of Monstropolis and attaching herself to Sully and Mike. Sully eventually names her Boo, and he and Mike are left trying to keep the kid hidden long enough to send her back through her closet door while dodging the CDA, the grandfatherly CEO of Monsters Inc., Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn), and Randall, who seems to be hiding a secret of his own.
Like every other film Pixar has made, the emphasis on characterization and story in Monsters Inc. means that the movie is still wildly fun and enjoyable today, even though the “wow” factor of the hard CGI problems that the movie solved are now mundane components of their latest features. The story is incredibly tightly assembled and timed to microseconds. The quick pace of the movie is reminiscent of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, especially in the wildly creative ending sequence set in an enormous vault of childrens’ doors that hilariously revamps the classic “hallway of doors” gag for the 21st century. There is no fluff to be found anywhere in this movie, nor anything that ever rings false or unbelievable, which is surprising, considering that one of the leads is little more than an eyeball with hands and feet. The incredible amount of thought that Pixar puts into their films ends up almost entirely on screen, with all the twists and turns of the plot developing organically and perfectly logically. The characterization is also delightful, from the marvelous character design and animation that communicates volumes at a glance to the absolutely perfect casting in the movie. Mike and Sully are a delightful pair of leads, riffing off each other like the old friends they are supposed to be. However, one of the real delights of the movie has always been watching them grow and change as Boo first comes between them and ultimately brings them back together.
The major element that Monsters Inc. has over the Toy Story movies is a larger theme that is wonderfully integrated throughout the movie without becoming preachy or moralizing. The same lessons about friendship and loyalty in Toy Story appear in this movie as well, but there is more happening under the covers of Monsters Inc. The original driving theme behind the movie was the energy crisis that gripped California from 2000-2001, with the moral of the story probably intended to be the need to find new ways of doing things. However, the movie accidentally became much more timely in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the mailed anthrax letters that followed. Its messages about paranoia and fear of the unknown bordered on being too much too soon at the time it was released, but the way it defuses those elements and replaces them with understanding and laughter is one of the most delightful components of Monsters Inc., and probably one major reason why the movie has such staying power.
I wasn’t able to do a full comparison between the original DVD release and the Blu-ray, but the differences are relatively small and not too surprising. The high-definition transfer on the Monsters Inc. Blu-ray release is marvelous, bringing out details large and small. Unsurprisingly, the vault of doors sequence is the high-definition money shot, presenting a sense of tremendous depth and space. However, lots of little details leap out as well, like the subtle movements of Sully’s fur, the mottled skin tones of Mike Wazowski, and even the in-jokes on signage and labels that whip by far too fast to see on a movie screen and are largely illegible on the DVD. The sound has been bumped up to a 5.1 DTS-HD mix (with French and Spanish soundtracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital), which doesn’t present too much of a change from the terrific sound mix on the original but does seem to be a bit sharper and more detailed. I don’t remember hearing the subtle acidic hissing sound when Mike Wazowski zaps his eye with disinfectant, for example. The wonderful commentary track from the original release is recycled for the Blu-ray, as are the two short films (“For the Birds” and “Mike’s New Car”) which are presented in high-definition as well.
Disc 1 includes two of the new bonus features on this disc: the filmmaker’s roundtable and a featurette on the construction of the Monsters Inc. ride at Tokyo Disneyland. The participants in the 22-minute roundtable include director Pete Docter, producer Darla K. Anderson, story supervisor/voice of Roz Bob Peterson, and co-director Lee Unkrich. A lot of their comments are duplicated from the commentary track or the in-depth making-of material on disc 2, but there are a few bits of new information, most substantially a discussion of how the terrorist attacks on 9/11 affected the movie-making process, causing one scene to be altered at the last minute. The revelation of the change won’t be a surprise if you’ve been reading our interviews, but the original version of the scene is finally shown here. The other new featurette mostly feels like an extended commercial for Tokyo Disneyland and the Monsters Inc. ride in particular, but it’s always interesting in seeing the passion and seriousness with which Disney employees take their work.
The original DVD release had an excellent second disc that toured the newly built Pixar studios in Emeryville, CA, and most of those features are included on the second Blu-ray disc, with a handful of them converted to full high-definition. The ones left in standard definition are probably limited by the source material: mostly hand-held videocamera, behind-the-scenes footage. The chimp is still there, as amusing a non-sequitur as ever. The only feature that seems to have been removed from this release is the one on “binaural recording,” which was short and gimmicky on the original release anyway. The abridged version of the Pixar Studio Tour from the DVD has been removed, and while the menus are more sensibly laid out on the Blu-ray bonus disc, there is a surprising lack of “Play All” buttons in the menus (although, to be fair, they were also largely absent in the original DVD as well). The one new feature on this disc is the “Roz’s 100-Door Challenge Game,” a trivia quiz about the movie that ends with a job offer at Monsters Inc. based on your success. Like many of Disney’s latest Blu-ray releases, Monsters Inc. also comes with the original DVD of the movie (right down to the trailers for the long out-of-print Beauty and the Beast Platinum Edition DVD) and another disc for a Mac and Windows compatible digital copy. The one missing feature I wish had been included is the navigation booklet, but they’re becoming rarer across the board.
I have to admit that I have almost no objectivity when it comes to Monsters Inc. I was living in New York City when the movie was released, shortly after Osama bin Laden tried to kill me (and a few thousand other people who worked in downtown New York, but I don’t think I’m out of line for choosing to take it personally). It was a deeply, deeply frightening period, so a movie willing to say that laughter was far more powerful than screaming meant a whole lot to me at the time. It’s hard for me to look at the movie dispassionately because I have such a strong emotional connection to it, but I view that as another testament to how successful Monsters Inc. really is.
All images © Disney. All rights reserved. Images do not necessarily reflect the high-definition video quality of the Blu-ray disc.