A Fascinating Day in Animation History: Pixar’s ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001)

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Thirteen years ago today, (ooh, spooky!) Pixar released their fourth full-length animated feature: Monster’s Inc. Directed by Pete Docter, with a screenplay from the likes of Andrew Stanton, this film was destined for success. Monsters Inc. follows the lives of James P. Sullivan (Sulley) and Mike Wazowski as they work on the scare floor of the biggest company in Monstropolis, Monster’s Incorporated. This film may get blown past by some as one of many “good” films Pixar did in the early 2000’s, but Monster’s Inc. deserves to be hailed as one of the great animated films in history because it truly is.

First of all, Monster’s Inc. has a solid story with well-developed characters. And, considering all we know about the ongoing story adjustment this script underwent, it is miraculous that it does. The final results for Mike, Sulley and Boo are classic and I couldn’t imagine them any other way. The concept of Boo transformed over time from gender to gender and age to age, with Docter finally settling on a 3-year-old-girl because, at that age, she would really “need” Sulley. Sulley’s character went through transformation as well, going from janitor for Monster’s Inc. to his final role as head scarer. An interview with Radix magazine back in 2000 shows some spiritual aspects to Docter’s directorial method, but it seems that Monsters Inc., as with most Pixar films, is primarily grounded by a solid foundation of story and character.

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(from left to right) Boo as seen in the film, Boo as seen as Jessica’s cat

What I love about Monsters Inc. is the simple, yet timeless truths it presents of things in our lives not being what they appear to be. The cognitive dissonance Mike and Sulley undergo as they realize their entire world is built on a lie about human children is so interesting and moving. Their abilities to adapt and move on when their world gets turned upside-down is heartwarming and crescendos with Sulley’s goodbye with Boo at the end. I still cry every time.

Some interesting facts about the film:

  • Billy Crystal was approached for Monsters Inc. for the second time by Pixar—the first was for Buzz Lightyear, a role he turned down. That is one of the decisions Crystal says he most regrets in his life, thus when he was approached again for Monsters Inc., he immediately agreed.
  • Boo’s real first name is Mary and apparently you can see it once in the film on a drawing she shows Sulley. This is also the name of the actress who voices Boo. She is also the only character whose voice actor was studied on film by the animators—primarily because she is the only human in the film.

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  • For a long time in development, Sulley was designed with tentacles. Thankfully, the animators and heads eventually nixed him down to a “regular” two-legged monster, which is exponentially easier to animate.
  • News that a teaser for Star Wars Episode II would run before the film leaked and apparently, many Star Wars fans paid to see the film, but left after watching the trailer for Star Wars Episode II.
  • It took 11-12 hours to render a single strand of Sulley’s 2.3 million individual strands of hair.

As his first solo directorial debut, I don’t think Pete Docter could have done any better than he did with Monsters Inc. The film has so much heart, humor and character appeal. The world is so strange, but so compelling and Mike and Sulley are now definitive characters in the canon of animated classics. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s a perfect around-Halloween-time film.

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