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.
'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.
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.
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.
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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