11/19/2009

Blu-ray Review: Monsters, Inc. (2001)


New On Blu-ray

(DVD Already Available)




Children's songs warned that we should “never smile at a crocodile,” and reassured those of us terrified of the tub that we'd “never go down the drain.” But one of the other popular pieces of advice dished out to us growing up that didn't come from those vinyl keepsakes called records was that-- when it comes to creepy crawlies-- the best thing to remember is that, “they're more scared of us than we are of them.”

And although you can't convince me otherwise in real life when it comes to snakes, monsters designed by Pete Docter and the imaginative geniuses at Pixar are an entirely different story altogether. Shortly into one of the company's most infectiously cheerful and briskly paced releases in their ten film history, they turn that adage into fact when a monster creeps out of a closet, sneaks over to a child sleeping in the night and goes against the horror movie mandate. After the startled youth springs up screaming, the monster mimics the action and engages in a full blown panic instead of an attack.

Screaming its lungs out before being flooded with injuries by the toys in the child's room, the monster is defeated by the all-powerful and irrational four letter “f word” of fear. Despite the fact that the children are often less than half their height, the monsters handle their mission of collecting screams by trying not to scream themselves. As explained in the film, today's kids are getting jaded earlier than ever before to the point that-- desensitized by movies, society and logic-- scaring them via the old monster in the closet trick just doesn't do it anymore.


The "fear factor" is quite a problem indeed since the city of Monstropolis depends on the screams to light, fuel, and power their community (thereby making Inc. the first subtly “alternative fuel” based kid's movie). Yet luckily, the biggest factory in town boasts a solid retention rate for the "most valuable scarers," including John Goodman's James Sullivan and his nemesis Randall played by Steve Buscemi who haven't lost their magical touch to terrorize.

Fortunately for Goodman's hero, his best friend, roommate and coworker at Monsters Incorporated, Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) ensures the monster he calls Sulley remains at the top of his game by running pre-shift exercise drills to keep him sharp. And with Mike's hilarious commands, we learn that Sulley can't be outdone even when Mike throws him several curves a la the “Twins! In a bunk bed!” trick or the “scary feet, scary feet, scary feet, stop" scenario that Mike takes as seriously as his mission for Sulley to "fight that plaque" as well.

On the verge of breaking the all-time scare record in ensuring Monstropolis doesn't suffer too frequent of power shortages by bursting through numerous doors in any given shift, Sulley, Randall and the guys go about their jobs with the same heroic fanfare and reverence on display in Kaufman's The Right Stuff in just one of Pixar's many usages of cinematic homage.


While a film about scaring the daylights out of children sounds like a project perhaps more suitable for Tim Burton than the group who brought us Toy Story and Finding Nemo, Pixar manages to keep us delighted with the jazz timed editing, vividly detailed animation, bright color palette and an ingenious set-up that hearkens back to the truism regarding just who is scaring whom.



Frightened of the children whom they consider toxic, if by chance even something as minor as a sock sticks to the monster's fur, the factory goes on a code red lock-down with the CDC like CDA (or Child Detection Agency) arriving on the scene, ready to explode the item and razor off all the monster's fur before they get a Silkwood shower in the blink of an eye.

With this much fear on both sides, Sulley becomes frantic when he stumbles on a random door left out one evening. Not knowing that Randall is trying to improve his scare record by lining up the scream collection devices by the cartload to target one particular floral door, Sulley enters and gets much more than he bargained for when the young girl on the other side follows him out.

Predictably Sulley bonds with the adorable toddler he nicknames Boo when he and the far more terrified Mike hide out with the child escapee until they can try to retrieve her door and send her back in the morning. Of course nothing goes as planned when they return to the factory and discover that perhaps Monsters, Inc. wasn't the place they thought it was when they realize just how traumatic being tormented has been for Boo (whose monster is Randall). Likewise, they're stunned to uncover that there's much more to Monstropolis and their policies than they'd previously been led to believe.


Genuinely sweet and easily one of the most successful Pixar titles since Toy Story, which scores a tie right there with Finding Nemo as among their very best in terms of touching storylines and precisely the right blend of inter-generational humor, the Blu-ray is as visually impressive as the studio's earlier '09 release of A Bug's Life.



Intriguingly Inc. hits shelves on the same date as director Pete Docter's new incredibly unique Up. However, perhaps because Up was created with a more naturalistic palette and the goal to employ both 3-D and digital projection, the transfer of that film matched the exceptional theatrical quality and not nearly as noticeable of an upgrade as the Blu-ray set for Monsters, Inc.

Not only does this 4-disc set which has a DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy far surpass the original 2-Disc collector's DVD set that I'd also owned in terms of clarity but the difference is absolutely astonishing in a side by side format comparison. The incredibly vivid technological improvement is most easily witnessed during the action-packed doors chase sequence which finds the characters flying through the air on the dry-cleaning like conveyor belt that attaches the door storage to the ceiling. However, for those who watch a lot of films in both formats, honestly the upgrade can be detected right as the film begins following the retro jazz era credits and especially when the characters walk to work amidst the sharply defined, nearly 3-D buildings of Monstropolis.

Complete with an introduction from Pete Docter to explain how the discs work and what's new on the Blu-ray as well as mirroring Up's “how to make the most of your home theatre” set-up menu, Inc. thankfully retains the two adorable Oscar nominated and winning shorts along with some newly created featurettes. Giving you an international tour of the Disney Monstrpolis theme park attraction, the Inc. highlight for Pixar enthusiasts is an intimate roundtable discussion with the filmmakers that gives everyone press style access.

In a revealing conversation, four involved in the film share not only their favorite scenes but also recall creative sessions of drawing in meetings on ten foot scrolls of paper along with the impact that the 9/11 tragedy had on not just Inc. but the rest of the films scheduled by Pixar. Moreover, the filmmakers also discuss their passion for working with the voice actors including the great Billy Crystal.



As we learn in the roundtable, when the original test footage for Toy Story was created, John Lasseter animated it with some of Billy Crystal's dialogue from When Harry Met Sally. Yet while Crystal has stated that one of his biggest regrets in life was turning down the opportunity to voice Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear who will return in the third film in 2010, it's wonderful to hear about the camaraderie between Crystal and Goodman involving improvisation that pays off in Monsters, Inc.

Also including a new version of the 100 Doors game with 100 games as well as others on a bonus disc of extras, the new edition of Monsters, Inc. is a Pixar must-own along with Up and A Bug's Life as yet another groundbreaking Blu-ray Combo Pack debut in an exceedingly impressive and crowded year of superlative Walt Disney Home Entertainment releases.



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