Piggybacking on the November 10 release of the latest Pixar juggernaught, UP (2009), comes the long-awaited Blu-Ray of the studio’s 4th animated feature, Monsters, Inc. (2001), helmed by UP’s Pete Docter. Eight years ago, the film represented a bit of a turning point for us in relation to animated films; though we thoroughly enjoyed the first two TOY STORY films and A BUG’S LIFE, none really grabbed us the way MONSTER, INC. did. The film tapped a rich vein with this viewer, whose childhood was steeped in both the hope and fear that the world was full of monsters and that some of them might just be in our closet at this very minute (though others must share this semi-macabre world view, as the film handily out-grossed all previous Pixar films).
The power supply for the sprawling city of Monstropolis is completely dependent upon the employees of its utility company, Monsters, Inc. Through a porthole system that connects with the bedroom closet doors of children all over the human world, its employees – a select group of ‘scarers’ – appear to small children and coax out their screams, which the utility converts to raw power. One day, the company’s top scarer, Sulley (John Goodman) spots an unattended door on the scare floor while the vile Randall (Steve Buscemi) sneaks about after hours. Sulley checks the door, unwittingly allowing a human child to enter into the company, a child who is utterly unafraid of the Sulley and the rest of the Monster world. Since every monster knows that human children are highly toxic, any monster known to come in contact with one is immediately put into isolation by agents of the CDA (Child Detection Agency). Consequently, Sulley enlists the aid of best friend Mike (Billy Crystal) to hide the little girl (known only as ‘Boo’) until he can return her to the other side of the door. But Randall has other plans for Boo, plans that will guarantee him the title of ‘Top Scarer’ and change Monsters, Inc. forever.
You couldn’t tell from the box art for the new Blu-Ray set, the real secret to this film’s success is the sole non-monster in the cast. From almost the first moment she appears onscreen, ‘Boo’ became one of the most effortlessly charming Disney creations in recent memory. Design-wise, the cute factor is obviously super-accentuated, but it’s the voice casting that makes her so winning. Pixar knew not to bother with a teenager making baby talk, and instead went with a child that closely matched Boo’s actual age (Mary Gibbs, who provided the voice, was born in 1996 and could only have been about 3 years old when the tracks were recorded). And instead of attempting to get her to read from a script, the engineers simply followed her around with a microphone and recorded her natural chatter, giving all Boo’s actions an air of childhood verisimilitude that almost everyone will instantly recognize.
There’s a terrific sequence early in the film with Sulley and Mike trying to hide Boo from the CDA from inside Sulley’s apartment; she sings to herself while drawing in coloring books and skips in circles until she makes herself dizzy while Mike and Sulley cower in fear, using a pair of tongs held at arm’s length to move her around the apartment. Besides being drop-dead funny, the scene brilliantly deflates any fears of monsters from young children in the audience (an audience I’m sure that Disney was afraid Pixar would lose in telling a story centered on monsters in closets).
The real threat in the film comes from Randall, a chameleon-like creature that wants to tie young children down to a frightening-looking machine and forcibly extract their screams – sort-of like the Monsters, Inc take on dynamite fishing. Randall had been assigned as Boo’s official monster, and the moment when she tries to tell Sulley not to leave her alone in the bedroom by drawing a picture of Randall is almost unbearably sweet, funny, and sad all at once.
The film’s finale, featuring a break-neck chase through the M.C. Escher-inspired doorway conveyer facility, is as fine an action scene as we’ve ever seen in animated film, never feeling wedged-in merely to provide a final action beat (like the unnecessarily frightening studio fire sequence that capped BOLT). The film concludes, however, on one of the purest and flat-out beautiful notes we’ve ever seen, and we find our eyes welling up at the thought of it. After 10 hugely successful films, MONSTERS, INC. is still our favorite Pixar title.
MONSTERS, INC. is the 6th Pixar film to be released on Blu-Ray, and from the disc we were sent, the wait has been worth it. Following the example of UP, the film comes in a four-disc set, including the feature and the extras from the previous DVD special edition housed on 2 BD discs, a third standard-def DVD of the film, and a fourth disc housing the digital copy.
The feature represents a direct digital download from Pixar’s own servers and the image is never anything short of breathtaking. All Pixar films have looked great on standard-def DVD, but the bump up to 1080p resolution allows for close examining of picture detail that we ever even knew was there; one could, for instance, become almost hypnotized staring at the movement of Sulley’s purple fur (and as a child reared on a dog-eared edition of “Where the Wild Things Are,” we loved that the design of Sulley is clearly inspired by Maurice Sendak’s artwork).
The main feature is accompanied by a commentary track featuring co-directors Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, writer Andrew Stanton, and producer John Lasseter. The Pixar team is justly famous for their ease on these tracks and this is no exception – an informal yet informative listen.
New to the set is a Filmmakers’ Round Table (a roughly 20-minute chat with several key members of the creative team as they look back on the film) and Ride and Go Seek: Building Monstropolis in Japan (a peek at the new ride at the Tokyo Disneyland – it may smell a bit too promotional, but it worked on us), and another interactive trivia game that we’ll never play, Roz’s 100 Door Challenge.
Everything else that appeared on the original 2002 DVD set appears to be here as well, including the wonderful For the Birds, which played theatrically with the film, and Mike’s New Car, the short that was added to the original DVD set. There are also literally dozens of production featurettes, with few running more than 5 minutes in length, and it would be nice to be able to bond these together in a single long-form documentary (though kids are more likely to be entertained in shorter bursts, we suppose). We’ve said before that reviewing Pixar discs is feeling increasingly trite; for fans of matchless digital animation and model storytelling, there’s simply no one else in their class.