|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 17 September 2002|
Without fail, year after year, Disney puts out great movies for kids and for adults who are kids at heart. "Monsters, Inc." is another one of those heart-warming and fun cinematic experiences. Joined by Pixar for this new film, Disney succeeds in delivering an absolute gem of computer graphic storytelling, just as the Disney/Pixar pairing did with the "Toy Story" movies. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) are two hard-working monsters trying to get scream power from kids in the human world by frightening them while they are sleeping. The monster world is totally dependent on the power of these captured screams. The monsters also have their own fears: the primary one is that a human child will one day get loose in their world and destroy everything. Of course, during the movie, a human child does get loose in the monster kingdom – but the consequences are not quite what the monsters expected.
The story of Mike and Sully's friendship is central to the tale. "Monsters, Inc." provides a ton of sight gags, as well as lots of interesting sounds. Chapter 1 offers a jazzy number and cartoon illustrations of doors during the opening credits. Doors will become a major motif throughout the movie. As they open and slam shut, the noise issues from the appropriate speaker, left, right or center, as dictated by the image on the screen.
Chapter 2 opens with what looks like a small child in his bed. The boy and his mom share a brief conversation. The mother's voice issues through the left main speaker, while the boy's voice comes from the right main, emulating the positions of the characters onscreen. After the boy appears to go to sleep, a monstrous shadow creeps from the closet. The boy awakens, certain he's heard something, but there's nothing to be found.
Spooky images quickly resolve into everyday things, and the creaking door noise echoes in the distance from the right main speaker. The boy soon puts his mind to rest and snuggles back into bed. Of course, that's when the monster jumps out and scares him. The boy screams through the left speaker and the monster roars through the right, again following the onscreen positioning and creating a more realistic aural experience for the viewer.
Shifting into high gear, Chapter 3 reveals that the sleeping boy and the bedroom are merely part of a simulation, a training stage for monsters that want to work in the factory as scarers. The chapter also shows how scream energy powers the monster world, following a scream throughout Monsteropolis that bounces from left to right to center, then back again like a whirlwind pinball.
We are introduced to longtime best friends Sully and Mike in Chapter 4. Sully’s dialogue cycles through the left main, while Mike’s is on the right, duplicating their onscreen positions. This effect is repeated throughout much of the movie, lending us the illusion that we are seated somewhere between the two heroes. During the exercise routine that Mike puts Sully through, Sully has to move a stack of furniture across the room, and the sound system cycles the noise from right to left to follow the movements onscreen.
The movie showcases several nice sight gags, as well as boasting excellent THX sound. In Chapter 5, Sully and Mike leave their apartment building by different doors built into the same frame. They get fresh fruit from a "Grossery" and wait on the corner for the "Stalk/Don't Stalk" sign. Another fine sound touch is the conversation from the left front speaker as Mike talks from around a street corner. We feel that we are right there as Sully and Mike walk up. A young monster on a skateboard rips across the street from right to left, and the sound carries the grinding noise from right main through the center and on to the left main.
Alert viewers will notice a tip of the hat to stop-motion special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. No Disney film is complete without an outstanding musical score, and Chapter 8's jazzy big band that plays during the work shift at the scream factory is done fantastically. With the music bopping in the background, the hiss and whump of things mechanical, and the orchestrated madness of shifting and locking down doors for the various monsters to plunge through to get their scream quota, Monsters, Inc. seems like the best place in the world to work. The concept of the dead door -- a door that leads to a bedroom containing a child that refuses to be scared by night-time monsters anymore -- is introduced, followed quickly by the door-shredder, a device that disposes of dead doors.
Chapter 9 showcases the CDA (Child Detection Agency), an organization established to deal with any child that might wander back through a door used by a monster. One of the scarers comes back with a child's sock on his back and is quickly subjected to decontamination. A CDA helicopter passes overhead and the surround sound system kicks to life, echoing the basso beats from the subwoofer and cycling the rotor noise through the main and center speakers. The plant manager, Henry J. Waternoose (voiced by James Coburn), puts in an appearance during this high-alert situation.
Substituting for Mike one night at the door controls, Sully inadvertently lets a little human girl, Boo, escape into the monster world. Totally terrified of the child, Sully tries to return her to her bedroom but is outwitted at every turn, a series of events sure to bring pealing laughter from the younger audience because this is some of the best stuff Disney and Pixar do.
The Harryhausen restaurant is rocked by CDA accompaniment. The Decon team’s efforts boom through the subwoofer as sirens and screams rolls through the mains and center speakers. The movie steps up the frantic pace as Mike and Sully try to figure out what to do with the little girl. In the beginning, both of them are frightened of her, but she's so cute and adorable and helpless that Sully can't abandon her.
Chapter 20's garbage smasher sequence fires up the subwoofer in thunderous booms. Chapter 21 offers another Mike and Sully scene. Again, their conversation is played out through the left and right speakers, making us feel that we are one step ahead of the fleeing monsters. The Scream Extractor in Chapter 22 also utilizes the subwoofer's basso capabilities.
When pressed by Waternoose to put on a display for monsters-in-training in Chapter 23, Sully's roar explodes from the subwoofer and rages through the main, rear and center speakers. The display also frightens Boo, who sees for the first time that Sully isn't actually the "kitty" that she insists on calling him. In a nice touch, Sully sees his actions on monitor screens and sees himself as a monster, but he doesn't give up on helping the child.
In addition to an excellent movie, the "Monsters, Inc." Two-Disc Collector's Edition also offers a ton of DVD extras. The audio commentary by director Pete Docter, co-director Lee Unkrich, executive producer John Lasseter and executive producer/screenwriter Andrew Stanton on Disc 1 offers a lot of background on the making of the movie. One of the decisions involved was to start with an opening credits sequence rather than getting right into the story, because the opening scene sets a spooky tone that wasn't intended for the film that is overall fun. The filmmakers also discuss the characters and storyboarding techniques that went into the production, lending a lot of understanding to animation features for viewers who are interested in that aspect of the movie.
Disc 2 adds three hours of additional materials. The immediate division comes with the choice of the "Humans Only" door or the "Monsters Only" door. Choosing the "Humans Only" door pulls the viewer into the behind-the-scenes and informational sequences regarding the animation, music and sound, monster files, design, and story. The sharpness and clarity of the images really plays out better on the PC, so viewers will want to view this disc on a computer monitor if there isn't an HDTV available. Several of the key people on "Monsters, Inc." have been involved with the project for five years.
The "Monsters Only" door leads to key animation sequences that include the made-for-the-DVD short feature "Mike's New Car". "Monster TV Treats" includes a bunch of short takes that are bellybusters featuring Mike and Sully. "Peek-A-Boo: Boo's Door Game" is a simple game that children will enjoy playing on the DVD player with the remote control. The "Outtakes," deliberately staged animations, of course, are an absolute riot. We can tell the animations folks are entertaining each other here, especially during the company play bit.
Disney and Pixar have produced another excellent movie with fantastic characters and a solid story that generates real emotion, and the effort spent on the Two-Disc Collector's Edition makes this a great addition to the home DVD library. Young viewers will choose to watch "Monsters, Inc." again and again, and even adult viewers may find themselves settling in with the youngsters for repeated showings.