Review: Is Monsters, Inc. a trick or treat on Blu-ray?

As a child, I was of the erroneous but firm belief that there was a large monster living under my bed called John. He was big and green, was married to a dragon called Elizabeth and they had six “puppies”. I’m serious. I was a strange kid. It’s a trip down memory lane for me, then, as Monsters Inc. comes creeping out from under the four-poster of Blu-ray obscurity. Will it hit the mark, or will it make me want to put that thing back where it came from?

Let us hope it’s the former.

Storytelling: 3/5

Welcome, fair traveller, to the city of Monstropolis, the capital and hub of the monster world, an alternate reality to our own.

Here, Things That Go Bump, Boogie Men and God Knows What Else co-exist peacefully, living, laughing, loving, playing and commuting to work on public transport systems powered by children’s screams. These screams, the lifeblood of this monstrous civilisation, are harvested by the huge mega-corporation known as – and I can see you’re ahead of me here – Monsters Inc.

It is in the never-ending corridors of this business behemoth that we meet scare-champion and enormous blue hairy nightmare James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), or ‘Sully’ to his friends.

With the aid of his best friend, a small, green, one-eyed orb called Mike Wozniac (Billy Crystal), Sully spends his days scaring the living heebie-jeebies out of sleeping children, entering their bedrooms via dimension-jumping doors in order to collect their precious vocal ejaculations. Then one day a curious child follows Sully back through his door and into the monster world.

Much hilarity ensues.

Nowadays the name Pixar is almost synonymous with storytelling prowess, and rightly so. This is, after all, the studio responsible for some of the greatest animated movies of recent times (‘Toy Story’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Up’).

On a basic level, ‘Monsters Inc.’ doesn’t let the side down. It’s a well constructed, brilliantly realised piece of work; a fun story, genuinely witty in places with great characters and characterisations from a talented cast. However – and I’m fully aware that I’m wandering out onto a rather precarious critical limb here – it seems to me that this movie doesn’t quite hit the same sweet spot as it’s aforementioned stable mates.

For a start, it’s not as funny. Yes, it has its moments (the ‘Put That Thing Back Where It Came From’ song being a good example), but the slightly more ‘kiddie’ slant of this film makes it a harder watch for the average adult. Secondly, errant toddlers waddling about making ‘cute’ noises is entertaining for 10 minutes, but after an hour and a half she (‘Boo’, the movie’s escaped child character) starts to get a bit annoying.

Finally, there’s the story itself. As I’ve already said, it’s well constructed and realised, but it just doesn’t have the same magic as the odd-couple-esque brilliance of Toy Story or the adventure and discovery of Finding Nemo.

The best of Pixar’s films have always had a touchstone element to them – Woody’s sudden fall from grace, Marlin’s search for his lost son – but here, despite all the wit in the world and some great visual stuff, Monster’s Inc. falls short.

Video: 5/5

High expectations aside, I’m pleased to say that if it’s possible for animated child-friendly monsters to look real, it’s here.

The Blur-ray transfer is very, very good. The astonishing craftsmanship of Pixar’s artists gets a bloody good showing off as every strand of Sully’s vibrant blue fur, every pock-mark on Mike’s brilliant green skin is shown in luscious detail, and it’s all presented in a reassuring 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Huzzah.

Likewise the film itself is a visual treat, with fantastically rendered environments, wonderfully weird characters, and expertly ‘shot’ and assembled (if that’s the right term here) action sequences making this film, visually at least, a BR classic.

Audio: 4/5

Hands up who remembers ‘Sharky and George’? Remember “Seeeeeaaaaaacago!!”?

Well for some reason the city of Monstropolis reminds me of this (oddly, ‘Finding Nemo’ didn’t), and I was somewhat irrationally disappointed that said classic proclamation didn’t come spewing forth from my 5.1 setup as I settled down to watch. One point deducted before we’ve even started.

Anyway…

Presented in DTS 5.1 HD, Monsters Inc. ticks the Blu-ray Daily vibrations box with an artful flourish. A funky, eclectic soundtrack and some great voice acting, mixed in with some great work on the ol’ surround speakers at key moments (the ‘door riding’ sequence for example) adds up to a neat little performance.

And we’ll overlook the ‘Sharky and George’ thing. Solid and functional stuff.

Package: 4/5

Big plus marks straight as soon as you open the box: you get two discs with this BR release.

Always a good sign.

Disc One contains the film plus 3 “exclusive to Blu-ray” features such as a writer/producer round table discussion (actually quite interesting) and a short doc about the building of the ‘Monstropolis’ ride in Japan (not so interesting).

Both of these are presented in HD, as well as the slightly pointless, but doubtless entertaining for the under-10’s, ‘Roz’s 100 Door Game’, in which you take part in a quiz, at the end of which you are told which job at Monsters Inc. you are best suited for.

For the record, I was told that I should be a ‘Greeter’. That’s all I needed to hear. I will be switching careers immediately.

On Disc 2, there’s more behind the scenes content, including some really encouraging stuff from the chaps at Pixar about how important ‘story’ is to their creative process. There’s some examples of storyboarding, as well as two short films, ‘For The Birds’ and ‘Mike’s Car’ thrown in for good measure.

All in all, it’s a pretty good haul, the only disappointment being the minimal amount of Blu-ray excusive content, but you can’t have everything.

Bias:

I am not necessarily that big a fan of animation as a whole.

Sure, there are some animated movies which I think are superb, and rate highly (‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ being a good example), but generally speaking I just don’t really sign up.

Pixar films, however, are a notable exception. Ever since I saw ‘Toy Story’ I’ve been a big admirer of almost everything they do.

This might make me sound like a bit of a pretentious tit, but I love the way they venerate ‘story’ above all other things, despite the fact that they are an animation studio and could so easily get caught up in how things look. I love the uniqueness of each of their films, the skill with which they cater to both kids and adults, and the artistic flair with which they are created.

As a consequence, it could be said that I set the bar slightly too high when I watch a film that I know has come from Pixar, or at least is made in that tradition. I’m probably too harsh, too quick to judge, and not content enough to just sit back and be entertained. But I can’t help it.

It’s a rich new seam of animated comedy Pixar has mined over the last decade and it shows no sign of being exhausted, so until that day comes, I’ll keep my standards high.

Verdict: 4/5 – “BUY”

 

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