The Art of Monsters Inc. by John Lasseter and Pete Docter Book Review

published by Chronicle Books, hardcover, 144 pages, most of them with full color illustrations.

Book Review

This companion book to Pixar’s fourth feature film is a collection of inspirational art that was created mostly during the early development of the movie. Oddly, there is barely any indication in this book that MONSTERS, INC. is actually a 3D digital film. 

Only two pages, a lineup of the main characters, show computer-rendered images. It’s an interesting and a quaint notion to show only the tactile flourish of the Pixar artists using “real” art materials, not virtual ones. Perhaps this is an effort to portray them as “real” artists, not caffeinated “tech-jocks” manipulating wireframe meshes on a computer? 

Whatever the reason for this unusual presentation, it’s ultimately disappointing because the staff at Pixar is the finest feature animation team in America today. No one seriously doubts the artistry of its animators and directors, and to ignore the digital production methods of the studio is to present only a fraction of the art of this film.The artwork revealed is actually quite good. 

There are many inspired pieces, plenty of humorous images to enjoy, and even a large collection of conceptual work that was commissioned to noteworthy illustrators like J. Otto Siebold and Lane Smith, among others. The freelance assignments given to these illustrators was to imagine a city of monsters, and this book generously publishes their wildly imagined landscapes. 

There’s a real sense of fun to the book, so few will be disappointed by the visual feast of so many full-color conceptual paintings. To be sure, there’s no skimping on the quality and volume of reproductions here. And the title of the book is not misleading. 

After all, what a reader gets is, simply, the (conceptual) ART OF MONSTERS, INC.

The disappointment comes from what this book could have been. Pixar is a studio at the top of its game, demonstrating a Golden Age stature that will one day stand alongside, or very close to, the revolutionary work done years ago at 2719 Hyperion Avenue. 

This fourth film is another landmark in Pixar’s unbroken string of critical, commercial and technical successes. Unfortunately, the tiny role of text here in acknowledging any of this is no more than an occasional quotation, usually from director Pete Docter, and brief forewords by Docter and John Lasseter. 

Without an account of the film’s production, the appealing assortment of concept art loses its way. The somewhat random presentation does not reveal the compelling journey that creating MONSTERS, INC. must have been for the assembled talents who worked on it.

One day Pixar will be combed over by animation historians, just like that burgeoning little studio on Hyperion Avenue started by a fella named Disney. If we don’t find out the details of this film now, we will later. But it would be admirable if any sanctioned book on Pixar today would include a budget for someone to observe and record some living history. 

Granted, the budgets in book publishing are as constricted as in other entertainment divisions, but the value to animation fans of an insightful text next to those great pictures surely has an impact on sales. There’ll likely be more great Pixar films, so we can only hope that next time will bring a book with a good writer attached.

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