[box cover]

Monsters, Inc. Collector's Edition

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Starring John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi,
and James Coburn

Written by Andrew Stanton and Dan Gerson
Directed by Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and David Silverman

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

In the beginning...

When Toy Story hit theaters in 1995, everyone knew they were seeing something brand-new, something almost revolutionary. And not just because the film's animators eschewed paint brushes and cels in favor of hard drives and monitors. The story about a talking cowboy doll and his delusional spaceman rival racked up almost $200 million at the box office because it was the rarest of Hollywood commodities: something original. Five minutes after the credits started rolling, audiences forgot to be wowed by the movie's technical achievement and were instead absorbed by its ingenious story, sharp script, and instant-classic characters.

But Toy Story could have been a one-off, a fluke. Instead, it marked the dawning of a new golden age in "children's" movies: the Era of Computer Animation. Inspired by the success of Pixar's John Lasseter and his geeky-hip minions, other studios have raced to compete — and for once in Hollywood, imitation has proved to be more than just flattery. Shrek, Ice Age, even Antz — something about being put together on a computer seems to turn animated movies into smart, funny films kids and adults can appreciate. (One notable exception is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but every party has its crashers.)

But Pixar remains the studio to beat. The Emeryville, CA-based company proved computer animation had legs when it released A Bug's Life to high praise (and higher receipts), then went for the hat trick with Toy Story 2, the rare sequel (animated or non) that lives up to its predecessor in every way. And then there's Pixar's latest achievement — a little bedtime story about the creepy critters under the bed...

And then there was the story, and it was good...

Monsters, Inc. lacks some of Toy Story's sharp cleverness and edgy humor, but it's still a delightfully creative, visually inventive riff on every kid's worst nighttime fear: What if there's a monster in the closet? The movie takes that question and turns it on its head — of course there's a monster in the closet, but what we really want to know is, what's he doing when he's off duty?

If he's James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (ably voiced by John Goodman), chances are he's working on ways to improve his scaring technique. After all, as the top scarer at Monsters, Incorporated — the Monstropolis company that captures children's screams and converts them into the city's power supply — he has a quota to fill and a reputation to uphold. Assisted by his squat, one-eyed partner/roommate Mike Wazowski (a hysterically manic Billy Crystal), Sulley is poised to defeat his chameleon-like rival, Randall (an oily Steve Buscemi), and break the all-time scare record when he accidentally lets a toddler cross into the monsters' world.

That's when the fur really hits the fan: The presence of a toxic child sends the fuzzy, scaled, fanged, clawed, and multi-eyed citizens of Monstropolis into a panic, including Sulley, who at first just wants to put the little girl back where she came from. But as Boo (so nicknamed because she likes trying to scare her big blue-and-purple friend) works her way into his heart — and he discovers a secret plot that could put her in danger — his protective instincts kick in.

Culminating with a wild chase through thousands of closet doors, Monsters, Inc. always manages to hold the viewer's attention, thanks to both the fast-paced main plot and the smallest details of the monsters' city. There are the "Stalk" and "Don't Stalk" signs, the "oderant" Mike uses to refresh his malodorous scent, the sushi restaurant named after effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, and hundreds more. It all comes together to create a colorful, fantastic world that's full of the joy the animators put into creating it.

Monsters, Inc. also succeeds as a sly mockery of big corporations that get stuck in their bureaucratic ways, a tale about loyalty and friendship, and an unexpectedly surprising mystery (I was certainly caught off-guard by at least one of the story's twists). That's a lot of movie packed into an hour and a half — and minute-for-minute, it's much more entertaining than Disney's last two or three traditionally animated movies put together. Which just goes to show that computer animation could be just the sort of revolution Hollywood needs.

And then there was the DVD, and it was great...

Computer animation has proved a great boon to the DVD industry as well — when your whole development process is already digital, transferring it to a disc and slapping it in a box is a cakewalk, right? So even though, Pixar might slip up one of these days and put out a bad DVD, it ain't this one. The go-to computer animation studio's small-screen streak — established with the Bug's Life disc and cemented with the fabulous Toy Story box set — continues with the Monsters, Inc. collector's edition, a jam-packed two-disc set stuffed with production featurettes, design galleries, early concept work, animation tests, promotional information, two animated shorts, an interactive game, an audio commentary, and lots more. And in this case, quantity is quality; aside from one or two quibbles about repetition (the outtakes are filed on the second disc in three separate places, the "Mike's New Car" shot pops up twice, etc.), the discs feature intelligent, extensive extras that not only offer in-depth information on the movie, but also serve as a computer animation primer.

Here's how it breaks down:

Disc 1: The Movie

Thanks to its digital origins, Monsters, Inc. looks just as gorgeous on the small screen as it did in theaters. Both the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and the specially reformatted full-screen version of the film offer bright colors, sharp edges, and crisp clarity. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio isn't too shabby, either (English captions are available, as is the THX audio/video optimizer tool).

Most of the features are reserved for Disc Two, but give this platter a spin and you'll find a DD 5.1 effects-only audio track (a fun Pixar trademark), sneak peeks for other Disney movies, and a commentary track featuring co-directors Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, executive producer John Lasseter, and executive producer/screenwriter Andrew Stanton. The four have fairly similar voices, which can make it difficult to tell who's talking, but since they all share the same enthusiasm for the project, that doesn't matter much in the end. It's an engaging track that offers some interesting behind-the-scenes stories (the most well-known at this point is the fact that Crystal turned down the Buzz Lightyear role in Toy Story and has been regretting it ever since) and insights. Both the effects track and the audio commentary are only available with the widescreen version of the film.

Disc 2: The Extras

Here's where the real fun begins. It would take another review's-worth of space to list and evaluate every single one of the featurettes, galleries, and little surprises tucked away on this disc, so you'll have to settle for a general outline and some highlights. (Don't all stop reading at once, now...) Everything is divided into two categories: Humans Only and Monsters Only. Choose a door from the main menu (which also offers quick links to the outtakes, the Oscar-winning "For the Birds" short, and "Mike's New Car"), and here's what you'll find:

Humans Only

Monsters Only

Posing as an introduction to Monsters, Incorporated for new employees, this area offers more of the "fluffy" features:

All in all it's a (c'mon, you knew it was coming) monster of a DVD no animation/Pixar/good movie fan will want to be without.

— Betsy Bozdech

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