Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Monsters, Inc. (Japanese Import)

Street Date:
May 20th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Nate Boss
Review Date: 1
July 13th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2001
Studio:
Disney/Buena Vista
Length:
92 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It's far too easy to open a review of a Pixar title by mentioning the massive success the studio has had with every release. Not since the Beatles captured the ears of the world has any entity had such surefire hit-making ability. Even the lesser Pixar entries (lesser by comparison to their kin, not to the works of other studios) are golden, even if that gold isn't quite 24 carat. 'Monsters, Inc.' is one of the Pixar titles that easily blows away the competition, yet it's one of the sub-par films in Pixar's library.

Did you ever fear there was a monster under your bed? Or hiding in the closet, waiting for your parents to leave the room and turn off the lights so that it could attack you? Why would they come from these areas alone, and what did they gain from scaring the living daylights out of you?

Answer: Scream energy. Like fossil fuels that power our world, the screams of children are what power the monster world. Monsters, Inc. is a company that collects and harnesses this raw power, sending its employees to the bedrooms of children to capture their screams. The fuzzy blue beast James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), also known as "Sulley" is the top scarer for Monsters, Inc, while the chameleon like Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) is just a step behind. When Sulley enters a door he shouldn't have, he lets a young girl, Boo, into the monster world, putting his job in jeopardy, as well as his friendship with a one-eyed green helper Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). Monsters have been taught to fear humans, so her presence in their world is a disaster for Mike and Sulley, who must find a way to get her back to her home undetected.

For all of the brilliance and ingenuity shown throughout the film's short (but slow-moving) runtime, a real lack of humor, and more importantly, heart, are what bring 'Monsters' down a notch in comparison to the other Pixar modern classics. The film isn't a comedy as much as prior Pixar films. The themes of innocence, the silliness of prejudice and segregation, and the emphasis on having fun in life rather than constantly being scared just don't tickle the funny bone, despite the limitless potential for gags that an entire parallel world brings.

Whining about the comedic factors of the film aside, 'Monsters, Inc.' does a fantastic job of presenting a film that would be more likely to scare a child than enrapture one, yet it pulls off the impossible, crafting a tale that's safe to show any child. Aside from the opening, which can throw one off before the twist comes into play, there's never a moment that crosses the line that 'Dumbo' did so many years ago.

No matter how much I found wrong with 'Monsters,' I had to give it all a second thought due to one element of the film: the ending. For all its shortcomings, 'Monsters, Inc.' has what can be considered a pitch perfect finale, refusing to shut the door, as it were, leaving the possibilities and outcome semi-ambiguous, with the only clue a mere expression. This one shot, one silly little shot, almost makes up for all of the wasted themes and missed gags in the rest of the film, touching you deep inside, no matter how cynical you might possibly be.

While far more complex than some of the later outings from the studio, 'Monsters, Inc.' is accessible to every audience out there, from teens and children, to the adults who have to watch the film with their kids. Not as nuanced as 'Toy Story,' or as clever as 'A Bug's Life,' 'Monsters' is much like the redheaded stepchild of the family, while still loved, it doesn't get the sheer admiration its peers garner for a reason.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Monsters, Inc.' arrives on Blu-ray in style, with a pitch perfect video transfer (in 1080p with an AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's original aspect ratio, 1.85:1) whose only shortcomings come from the source itself, rather than this pristine, utterly gorgeous transfer. Pixar, you're batting 1.000 (that means perfect, for you non-sports fans)!

Where to start? Colors are absolutely vivid, never showing signs of banding, with almost every frame draped in a wild assortment of hues. Detail is spot on, and clarity abounds all around. No film "set" is without wear and tear, and this disc shows off the fine attention to creating a lived in world, rather than a pristine, shiny, brand new facility. Every scene is eye catching, or jaw dropping, whichever facial expression you prefer.

There are no artifacts, and no macroblocking. To be frank, there are no flaws to this video that are the result of the transfer whatsoever, it is perfection. It's so perfect that you can see some bits of animation, and some backgrounds that stand out like a sore thumb due to their age. When a transfer's only flaw is that it brings to light the age of the film itself, and the technological limitations that may have been in place (especially compared to more recent Pixar outings), then I have no choice but to still give the video a five out of five. 'Monsters, Inc.' doesn't look as complex or stunning as 'Ratatouille' or 'Cars,' but I'm not holding that against it.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Here is where things may get tricky for a second...'Monsters, Inc.' defaults to a Japanese DTS-ES Matrix 6.1 track, and unless you're good with navigating Japanese menus, you will have a hell of a time correcting the audio so that it plays in the original mix. Take it from me, just start the film, press pause, and go through your remote control to set the audio to the track you want to hear: the DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mix.

Call me any name you want, I have thick skin and can take it, as I will be singing nothing but praise for the next few paragraphs. This disc gave me no reason to grimace, nothing to nitpick, and nothing to flat out disparage. Monsters, Inc.' created a wonderful and unique visual tapestry, and it would have been for naught if it didn't sound as active, engrossing, and diverse as it looked.

There is never a moment where any element of the audio overpowers any other to the point that one gets drowned out. Period. No matter how many background noises are buzzing, you can hear the pitter patter (or oozing, or slithering) of monster feet, and no matter how emphasized a bit of score may sound, dialogue never plays second fiddle.

Every speaker gets a healthy workout, as the sound mix does an amazing job putting you, the viewer, in the middle of the action. The monster world, indoors and out, is alive and teeming with activity all around. Echoes are sharp, directionality is frequently used, and motion effects are clear and natural. In the scenes where a scream canister is opened, or when Boo laughs, the electrical currents pulsing through the room are beyond impressive. The late snowstorm sweeps through the room, matching the intensity and direction of the scene beautifully.

My favorite element of this mix has to be the utilization of bass. It. Is. Amazing. So amazing that the previous sentence got split into three part, somehow. From the opening scene, in the scare training room, the subwoofer adds tension and emphasis to the on screen happenings, and continues to accent the film, never really that subtly. It rocks the house on a few occasions! Whenever Sulley hits the ground, be it from a stumble, or a pushup, a hearty thud registers. Ted (the giant chicken, whose leg is the only portion of his body shown) possesses an extremely powerful rumble with his steps, as do the power surges, while even silly things like doors landing on the scarefloor create a healthy thud. The LFE is an absolute monster, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

If there is anything you wanted to know about the movie, you're bound to find it out if you sit through this extensive, borderline exhausting collection of extras.

Disc 1

  • Intro (HD, 1 min) - An intro to the disc by Pete Docter, the director of 'Monsters, Inc.,' that teases what can be found on the disc. The bevy of features shown made me drool just a bit...the kid in me looked in wonder, but the adult in me soon realized how massive an undertaking this supplement package would be.
  • Audio Commentary - With Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, and Lee Unkrich. The crew discuss the origins of the film, their thoughts on the voice acting crew (of course, all praise), the changes made to the film and how they adapted to them, and more, in rapid succession, with no prolonged gaps in coverage. Like many a Uwe Boll commentary, the participants even pick up the phone and make a call. Unlike a Boll commentary, the call actually relates to the commentary track itself. A fast back and forth, with wide and ranging coverage.
  • Monsters, Inc.' Filmmakers Roundtable (HD, 21 min) - Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson, and Bob Peterson sit down at the cafe where many Pixar tales were dreamed up, to discuss the history of the film. They mostly focus on the story itself, how they came up with it (and tinkered with it, of course), and then move on to their favorite scenes, the changes characters took conceptually, voice recording details, and the events of 9/11. A lively conversation that feels half as long as it is.
  • Pixar Short- For the Birds (HD, 3 min) - With optional commentary. This Pixar Short is a bit on the bizarre side, though it looks absolutely gorgeous here in high def, with the scratches on the beaks showing clearly.
  • Short- Mike's New Car (HD, 3 min) - With optional commentary. Sadly, there is no English option for this short, be it spoken word or subtitles. This is more a slapsticky little ditty, so language shouldn't matter that much.
  • Pre-Menu Trailers - A generic Disney Promo, Disney Movie Rewards, Wall-E, Pinocchio, and High School Musical 3.

Disc 2

  • English Menu - This is worth noting here. The menu for disc 1 is in Japanese, while this disc sports an English menu system. Makes navigation that much easier, and makes me wonder if disc 2 will be identical, no matter what region it is released in.
  • Pixar Fun Factory Tour (SD, 4 min) - The beginning of a "Humans Only" subsection of the menu. A tour of Pixar, guided by John Lasseter and Docter. This feature shows one of the few companies out there that takes the idea of Neverland and puts it to real life use.
  • Story - This extra has four subsections. Story is King (SD, 2 min) covers the storyboarding process for those unaware of how films are made. Monsters are Real (SD, 1 min) covers the opinions of the cast and crew on what they think of real life monsters and their existence. Original Treatment (HD, 14 min) features an awesome alternative early sequence in the film with some gorgeous preliminary artwork! Lastly, Story Pitch: Back to work (SD, 4 min) shows the storyboard pitch of a sequence in the film that is very, very slow.
  • Banished Concepts (HD, 10 min) - A play all feature would have been nice...Five deleted scenes, with introduction by co-director Lee Unkrich, can be found here. They are all shown through very detailed conceptual art, with only one (Original Sulley Intro) being a full on animated (though only partially finished sequence). These scenes are flat lacking, so their exclusion from the film through the numerous drafts is far from criminal.
  • Storyboard to Film Comparison (HD, 15 min) - Three versions of a single scene, through storyboards, the finalized version, and a side by side comparison of the boards and the finalized version.
  • Art Gallery - Conveniently sorted with numerous pictures thumbnailed on the screen, this gallery can be broken up into pieces, or viewed as a whole (through the play all option). There are a multitude of images here, from finalized character designs to all stages of development, to elaborate story design shots, concept art of the sets, and lastly the posters and promo shots for the film.
  • Designing Monstropolis (SD, 3 min) - Co-director David Silverman hosts this feature that discusses the design process for the environment of the monster world, the ideas for how to create it, and why some areas were created as they were.
  • Set Dressing Info (SD, 3 min) - This feature discusses the cluttering up of the sets so that they look like they are actually lived in and have been lived in for some time. The examples of how they were made and altered were quite dry.
  • Location Flyarounds (SD, 7 min) - A collection of 360 degree or moving shots of sets is shown here, to highlight the areas in the film and their level of detail, without all the character clutter.
  • Monster File - This feature has two sections: Cast of Characters (SD, 6 min), which features the voice talent for the film, and character rundown analyzing each monster for the film, their motivations and personalities, and What Makes a Great Monster? (SD,1 min), which focuses on the Art Department workers who created the designs of the characters, both in shape and tint.
  • Animation - There are a ton of extras found in this sub-section! Animation Process (SD, 3 min) shows the progression from hand drawn storyboards to rough animatics, to finished product, while Early Tests (SD, 8 min) includes a series of looped bits of animation showing the progress the character design took over time. Opening Title Animation (SD, 2 min) looks at the opening sequence with the varying doors and the jazzy theme, Hard Parts (SD, 5 min) deals with the animation of more material objects, like clothing, or body parts, rather than the hair focus from the Earlier Tests extra, while Shots Department (SD, 2 min) is yet another look at the difficulties of animating particular items. Rounding out this section is Production Demonstration (SD) is a five part extra that shows the progression of a scene in the film (23-19!), with an intro from Unkrich.
  • Music & Sound - In Monster Song (SD, 3 min), Crystal and Goodman discuss and sing If I Didn't Have You, whileSound Design has sound designer Gary Rydstrom showing how silly little sounds like footstep pitter patter or tentacle slopping is added to the film.
  • Release (SD) - A collection of advertisements for 'Monsters, Inc.,' including two trailers, four television spots, and a focus on the toys and plush animals made from the film.
  • Wrap-Up (SD, 1 min) - A finale to the "tour" of Pixar. Nothing to see here.
  • New Monsters Adventures - The first extra in the "Monsters Only" section has three sections, the first being Monster TV Treats (SD, 1 min), which is a series of incredibly short spots of the characters in the film in random real life situations. Ponkickies 21 features a couple of games for children, in Japanese (though subtitles are available). It's safe to say this is the weirdest feature on this two disc set, bar none. A rock-paper-scissors game on goofballs is up first, while "lucky door game" made me want to bang my head against the door, despite the fact that it was far more subdued and less bizarre than the previous game. Last, and a bit more sane, is If I Didn't Have You Music Video features the song played to random clips of the film. Scary enough, this feels much like a fan clip compilation you'd find on Youtube to the newest Linkin Park monstrocity...I mean song.
  • Behind the Screams: On the Job with Mike & Sulley (SD, 2 min) - An interview with Mike and Sulley, about their jobs. If you watched the film, and all of the extras, and need this interview to understand the door system and the characters, you really need help. Even if you're five.
  • Orientation - Rounding out the extras is this three part section, with Welcome to Monsters, Inc. (SD, 1 min), an advertisement for the monster company in the film, Your First Day (SD, 3 min), a really funny mock advertisement for monsters in training, and History of the Monster World (HD, 1 min) is a neat little short detailing the differences between man and monster. A fantastic little ditty full of dry humor.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

As if you needed anything else, this version of 'Monsters, Inc.' also includes a few exclusives not found on the DVD release!

  • Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek: Building Monstropolis in Japan (HD, 8 min) - A look at the 'Monsters, Inc.' themed ride in Disneyland....Tokyo. This feature discusses the park itself, shows the animatronics of the ride, the themes with the flashlight tag, and the design of the ride. I have to say, they make the ride look quite impressive. There is some Japanese spoken in this feature, but there are no English subtitles available, so be aware of that. It is minimal over the length of this mini-feature.
  • Roz's 100 Door Challenge (HD) - A series of little mini games. Some are so easy you'd have to wonder about yourself if you got them wrong; however, some are vague and immensely aggravating. While aimed at the wee ones in the room, it took me and my girl (at a combined 50 years of age) countless tries to figure out some of the questions which will require you to guess and guess and guess, as the clue serves as no help whatsoever. This little quiz is always in the same order, no matter how many times you play it, so it gets repetitive real fast, and there are so many trick questions you'll want to throw your remote at the screen. Not exactly a kid friendly game.

Final Thoughts

The question for this release: is it worth importing, or should one just wait for the domestic release? Since all versions of this release are likely to be nigh identical (save for the subtitle and alternate audio options, and menu languages on disc one), it's all a matter of whether one can wait or not. I'm glad I didn't wait for this one, and those who do take the plunge and import this disc are likely to have a similar level of satisfaction. The hefty price tag of importing Japanese discs is sure to scare off most potential buyers, for sure, but those who can look past that will get a treat due to their impatience.

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Technical Specs

  • 2 BD-50 Blu-ray Discs
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1
  • Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English
  • Japanese

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Featurettes
  • Interactive Game
  • Pixar Short

Exclusive HD Content

  • Filmmakers roundtable
  • Monsters Inc Ride at Tokyo Disneyland