Now that moms and dads have become especially vulnerable to uninspired Hollywood clichés of the strained human condition (e.g. K-PAX, Life as a House), the young-ins have the wondrously potent Monsters, Inc. to fall back on. Not only is Pixar’s latest gem the epitome of rock-solid Hollywood escapism, its reconstruction of a cartoon corporation in the grips of recession serves as the elementary yet efficiently nuanced backdrop for a grandiose celebration of realized childhood fears. The Monsters, Inc. infrastructure is feeling the heat of the child scream shortage. The company’s cuddly employees used to be able to break into children’s bedrooms and secure enough screams to power the monster world’s energy needs. Kids, however, don’t scare as easily nowadays—some even scare back, turning monsters into whimpering fools. The burgeoning recession calls for desperate measures, which leads to corporate greed and serious breaches in protocol.
While the film’s recession-themed narrative may be coincidental, one eerie conceit recalls America’s recent Anthrax scare. The fear-ridden Monsters, Inc. forces their employees into decontamination units should they return to the monster world with human remnants statically stuck to their furry backs. Big and cuddly Sulley (John Goodman) is the company’s prime scream collector, the bane of one mean lizard’s existence. Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) is his slithery name, a chameleon looking to steal screams artificially. With the help of one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), Sulley looks to return a little girl to her human bedroom after she sneaks into Monsters, Inc. via Sulley’s back. The girl bonds with Sulley (she charmingly calls him Kitty and he names her Boo) as her blue protector comes up with a more humane and cost-effective way of juicing up his world’s energy needs.
Subtle references to Brazil abound, from the annoyance of red tape to the epic climax that finds Sully and Mike riding through the core of the monster corporation. Unlike Antz and Shrek, the endlessly precious Monsters, Inc. affords little room for cheap pop-culture references and easy postmodern jabs. An Abominable Snowman (he opts for “adorable snowman”) is the film’s major loose end although his snowy abode tests Sulley’s unblinking determination. The film’s humor is snappy, its attention to detail outstanding. Most importantly, though, its rendering of narrative is innocent and pure. Sulley and Boo’s relationship is a heartbreaking reminder of how fear is intricately bound to childhood experience. The monster inadvertently makes the little girl cry, thus breaking the purity of their trust. There are no cheap moral tags and the film’s closure is far from naïve (kids still know how to distinguish a lame joke from a good burp). By film’s end, Sulley and Boo’s reconciliation and separation becomes a humbling reminder of what it’s like to fear, imagine and hope.
On this long-awaited, two-disc collector's edition of Pixar's Monsters, Inc., Disney offers both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen transfer of the film. And to guarantee only the highest image quality, the company places most of the supplemental materials on the second disc. The kind of eye-popping splendor, color depth and sharpness on display here is certainly miraculous though it shouldn't come as a surprise to Pixar fans. Every bit as impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack. Check out Mike, Sulley and Boo's journey through the Monsters, Inc. door factory if you have any doubts.
The engaging commentary track included on the first disc features co-directors Pet Doctor, Lee Unkrich, and executive producers John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton-you could bottle and sell their joy and love for this project. Most notable is their discussion on how the project came to fruition, almost as an extension of the ideas that informed Pixar's Toy Story films. Also available on the first disc is an isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 effects mix of the film and a Sneak Peeks section featuring a teaser spot for Pixar's upcoming Finding Nemo. The features on the second disc have been cleverly divided into two separate sections (Humans Only and Monsters Only) though there are three features available directly from the main menu: five minutes worth of "outtakes" and two shorts (the Oscar-winning "For the Birds" and the new-to-DVD "Mike's New Car"). The Production Tour included within the Humans Only section is a missed blessing. Though it's necessary to get to the credits in order to access the disc's Easter Eggs, the tour itself may spoil the fun of the disc's remaining features. Chimp lovers beware: a monkey seemingly housed at the Pixar offices makes a delightful impression throughout (get a look at what he's wearing as he introduces those Easter Eggs!). By the time you're finished watching these features, you'd swear you work for Pixar. Covered here are the film's design, story, animation, music and sound elements. A section devoted to the film's release includes trailers and TV spots, inserts and an international clip real. Far simpler but just as lovely is the Monsters Only section. It is here that the work that went into this DVD edition is most notable, if it wasn't already apparent from the eye-popping interactive menus. As a Monsters, Inc. employee, kids and curious adults will go through a general Orientation (take a peek at the company's handbook and Monster of the Month) before going Behind the Screams (go on the job with Mike and Scully and take an exhaustive look at their company play) and New Monster Adventures, which provides an assortment of games and treats for the younger set. If there is any problem here it is the general air of redundancy—many of the features are available from several different locations but it's only genuinely problematic when you reach the Humans Only hub. For some reason, a section devoted to Pixar repeats the Production Tour.
This DVD edition of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. may be overwhelming for kids. Parents should be prepared to sit in front of the television for hours on end before getting through half the extras available here.