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Blu-ray Review: Monsters, Inc.

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Pixar releases another carefully upgraded catalog title with Monsters, Inc. Although now belonging to the first half of their impressive collection of films, it is no less fun for the aging, and looks amazing in high definition.

The Movie

Monstropolis is a bustling, modern city of colorful monsters, many of whom work for Monsters, Inc., where human children's screams are captured and turned into wonderful, delicious electricity that powers the city. But beware, because the children themselves are toxic!* Which is why professional scarers are needed: get in, scare, get out, no fuss. James P. "Sully" Sullivan (John Goodman) is the top scarer at the company, and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is his partner. Together they've been top of the heap of scarers for as long as most can remember. Unfortunately, one of those "most" is the jealous lizard Randall (Steve Buscemi) who is tired of being number two. After accidentally letting a child – Boo – wander into the Monsters world, and further realizing that children aren't really a threat**, Sully must both keep her a secret to avoid his own contamination, and also to figure out a way to get her safely home. But when Randall finds out about the girl, who is on his list of scarees… well, let's just say he's the bad guy in this pageant.

Monsters, Inc. expertly balances the difficult feat of being genuinely funny, while also being touching and warmhearted (and junk). If you laugh out loud at the pimply monster interns at the factory, that's totally fine. And if you later get a little misty when Sully has to say goodbye to Boo, then hey, we'll give you a moment. Pixar somehow consistently manages to set formula plot development inside absurdly non-formulaic settings, which helps out both sides. Monsters, Inc. taps into the same fantasy-meets-human world that Toy Story began, and is at least as good in execution. It's great to reconnect with a movie like this, after being distracted by several more recent offerings, and to find it just as fresh and enjoyable as when it came out.

Video/Audio

Disney continues to put the ultimate care into their Blu-ray releases (and I wish more companies would follow their lead), and combined with Pixar's obsessive level of quality, we once again have a near-reference grade hi-def release. The video is simply stunning. An impeccably clean transfer that allows you to study as much detail as you care to, Monsters, Inc. provides fans with a release that has been worth the wait. Color is spot-on, black levels are impressive, no digital compression is evident and all points work together to bring the very colorful and textured world of Monstropolis to life.

As for the audio, I was glad that Disney included the handy theater set-up feature on the main disc, as I was able to troubleshoot and fix a short in one of my rear speaker wires (so that's what that was…). I'm glad I made the effort, because I was able to then enjoy the spectacular sound on the film. Big props to their foley artists and sound designers, because they earned their paychecks here. Not only are you able to hear a myriad of tightly designed environments in their full sound field glory, but none of them are cluttered. All of the ambient noise and "life" for the settings is very deliberately spaced and leveled into the mix. And when big sound scenes do come along (like the blizzard landscape, as well as the factory door-chase sequence) they let you have it from every side. Both the audio and video here impress greatly, and show why Pixar is still without peer.

Bonus Materials

I would like to start with an oft-overlooked, but probably the most important bonus material of the Disney releases so far: the DVD version. Yes, I know we're all "hi-def" and Blu now, but the DVD is a super-nice bonus item. Digital Copy? I could care less about you, especially as you become a complete coaster after being used once. With the DVD I can make my own (better) portable copy, as well as haul it over to a friend's house for an impromptu movie party. So nice to have, and Disney please keep it up.

The bonus materials from the older DVD release have been ported over here, as well as the inclusion of some new items, which is what I'll focus on here. The first new item is the "Filmmakers Round Table" (HD, 22 minutes), which features director Pete Doctor, co-director Lee Unkrich, producer Darla K. Anderson and story supervisor Bob Peterson chatting over coffee and offering memories of making the movie. It's an interesting discussion and is well-paced thanks to editing. In many ways it's the reader's digest version of a commentary track, offering some production hurdles that were overcome as well as little-known tidbits of trivia. "Ride and Go Seek: Building Monstropolis in Japan" (HD, 12 minutes) is a look at the Monsters, Inc. ride at the Japanese Disney park. It's a bit superficial as everyone gushes endlessly about their work, but it does look like a nice ride. "Roz's 100-Door Challenge" (HD) is a movie-themed trivia and logic game. There are one hundred questions about both the movie and logic puzzles in general; three strikes and you're out. Although it feels like a quick add-on, it actually does contain some replay value as you try to make it all the way through the glut of questions.

Beyond that, all of the original special features are bundled in, although most are just in standard definition. The bulk of them feel like a more feature-length behind-the-scenes item was mercilessly hacked up into little pieces, in an attempt to have a lot of bonus "things." Some are incredibly short, and most have a goofy, condescending attempt at humor, but they also include some interesting info. Everything is covered – from animation challenges to story development, international release features to promotional tie-ins – but at the end of the ride you wish the Pixar folks had kept their dignity intact a bit more, instead of endlessly riding around on scooters, holding a monkey, and delivering their lines with a forced "Hey, Kids!" expression. But there are also genuinely valuable bonus materials included (shorts "For The Birds" and "Mike's New Car" are included in HD, being a nice upgrade over previous versions), and it's easy to overlook some cheese when there is so much other stuff to sink your teeth into.

Conclusion

Now that Pixar has built up a more vast stable of releases, it's easy to forget just how good Monsters, Inc. was and still is. This new Blu-ray release handily shows off the craft of the filmmakers, as well as delivers a truly fun and heartwarming story that stands on its own. Although their hi-def releases are coming out at a slow and measured pace, the quality that has been put into them so far shows that it's probably worth the wait. Fans of the studio, as well as those of quality animation, should not hesitate to add this to their BUY pile.

* = This is true.
** = Not true! See *

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About David R Perry