Monsters Inc. is the fourth film from the union of Disney with Pixar studios. It follows Toy Story 1 and 2 and A Bug's Life, but may well go down as the time the House of Mouse lost out to a rival – losing the inaugural Best Animated Feature Oscar to DreamWorks's baby, Shrek. However, it has to be said, that if I’d been allowed to vote I would probably have joined the losing side. Not that I didn't enjoy Shrek, it was wildly hilarious, but there's a huge amount of heart in Monsters Inc. that won me over.
Basic plot outline first: James P Sullivan (Sully) and Mike Wasowski are monsters, they live in Monstropolis, a world paralleling our own, and they work at Monsters Incorporated, a factory harvesting screams from human children to create power for the population. One day a human child nicknamed Boo escapes into Monstropolis as a result of Sully enquiring into the nefarious business of Randall Bloggs, one of the Scarers at the factory. The rest of the film is taken up by the attempts of Sully and Mike to return Boo to her room, and along the way discovering what it is Randall is up to.
Both animation and voices in this film are fantabulous. Sully and Mike are played in joyous fashion by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, who prove along the way that while they will never sing at La Scala, they're certainly preferable to the attempting warbling of other poplets on Disney soundtracks. Indeed the song 'I wouldn’t have nothing if I didn't have you' finally won composer Randy Newman his first Oscar. Crystal revels in his usual range of verbal pyrotechnics, and Goodman plays the good guy for once. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi makes a wonderfully villainous Randall, and following Mary Gibbs, one of Pixar's employee's children around for a while and recording her, achieved Boo's voices. The animation of the film is far subtler than the boldness s of Shrek, the fur of various monsters is particularly spectacular. In one notable shot, with Sully lying out in the snow, wind ruffling his fur, looks almost like it belongs in a live action film and the director has flung a teddy bear out into the snow. And Boo is the most adorable animated child ever.
The story of the film is far simpler than other Pixar efforts, and includes less in-jokes for the adult; it has also been referred to as sentimental. Yet the film's delights should outweigh that, and the ending, while definitely sweet can't really be classified as saccharine. However, the future of Monsters Incorporated is easily predicted from the moment that Boo sees Mike end up in the waste paper basket, and while one villain gets his comeuppance in style, the other's finale is somewhat lame. In the end, Monsters Inc. is much more of a 'kiddie' film than its predecessors, although utterly adorable, and is well worthy of repeated watching. It also has Pixar's standard 'outtakes' over the end credits – this time taken from the company show, written, directed, produced by and starring, Mike Wasowski.
There are two DVD versions of this film: the standard edition, which contains the film, the new animated short Mike's New Car and a few other extras, and the Collectors edition, a two disc spectacular. This edition also contains a trailer for Finding Nemo, Pixar’s next film, a commentary from the filmmakers, For the Birds, the Oscar-winning animated short that was attached to the film in cinemas, and a raft of behind the scenes footage. The Humans Only section starts off with a 20-minute production tour, showing the viewer the Pixar facility and illustrating the beginnings of making the film. It is then divided into sub-sections dealing with story, characters, design, animation, music and the release of the film. There is also a Monsters Only section, aimed more at the junior end of the market. There are a few problems with the DVD – some things such as Mike's New Car and the out-takes (Which are taken from the end credits of the film) pop up more than once on the DVD.
The commentary I confess I haven't watched yet (having watched the film twice in a week and a half I can't quite bear it again), but if it matches up to the quality of the production tour and other 'Humans Only' material, I'm sure it must be a lot of fun, and I'm sure I'll put it on in the background soon. (I don't really actively watch commentaries normally – I just have them on whilst I'm doing other things!). Based on the Production Tour, I have to say, I wish I were a computer-animation whiz, because I would love to work at Pixar. They have a huge aircraft-hangar type of complex, very open, in which they whirl between offices on micro-scooters, play with all the tie-in toys from their films and have all meet up to go over the storyboarding together. A brief WARNING for the animal rights conscious – they also have a pet chimp that appears occasionally. The in-depth material gives a fascinating glimpse behind the process – including the original story for the film, in which Sully is about to be kicked out as a Scarer until Boo, youngest sister to nine brothers, enters his world and revitalises his routine. You have to wonder if it would have worked half as well. The footage from the release of the film is pretty much an excuse to show how cool everyone is – but that could then be shattered (depending on your views) by the segment showing John Goodman and Billy Crystal recording 'If I didn’t have You'. There is also a 'kiddie' section on the Monsters Only section of the DVD – including games and collector's cards.
All in all, a very worthwhile purchase – the film is the main delight, but the large body of extras are good value for money, and you can watch For the Birds again and again and again.