Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar Edition. Monsters, Inc.

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Monsters, Inc.

Year: 2001

Budget: $115 million

Box office: $577.4 million

Plot: The city of Monstropolis in the monster world is powered by energy from the screams of human children. At the Monsters, Inc. factory, skilled monsters employed as “scarers” venture into the human world to scare children and harvest their screams, through doors that activate portals to children’s bedroom closets.

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It is considered dangerous work, as human children are believed to be toxic and dangerous. Energy production is falling because children are becoming less easily scared, and Monsters, Inc.’s chairman, Henry J. Waternoose, is determined to find a solution.

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James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and his partner, Mike Wazowski, are the organization’s top employees, but their chief rival, Randall Boggs, is close behind. One day, Sulley discovers that Randall has left a door activated on the scare floor and a small girl has entered the factory. After several failed attempts to put her back, Randall sends the door back into the factory’s door vault and Sulley conceals her and takes her out of the factory.

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He interrupts Mike’s date with his girlfriend, Celia, at a sushi restaurant, and chaos erupts when the child is discovered.

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Sulley and Mike manage to escape with the child before the Child Detection Agency (CDA) quarantines the restaurant.

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They soon discover that she is not toxic after all; Sulley grows attached to her and calls her “Boo,” while Mike is just anxious to be rid of her. The duo smuggle her back into the factory disguised as a baby monster in an attempt to send her home. Randall discovers Boo and tries to kidnap her, but mistakenly kidnaps Mike instead. He straps Mike to a large machine called “The Scream Extractor,” which he intends to use to revolutionize the scaring industry and solve the monster world’s energy problems by forcefully extracting screams from kidnapped human children.

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Before Randall can use the machine on Mike, Sulley intervenes and reports Randall to Waternoose. Waternoose, who is secretly in league with Randall, instead exiles Mike and Sulley to the Himalayas. The two meet the Abominable Snowman, who tells them about a nearby village, which Sulley realizes he can use to return to the factory. Sulley prepares to return, but Mike refuses to go with him.

Meanwhile, Randall is preparing to use the Scream Extractor on Boo, but Sulley suddenly arrives and saves her, destroying the machine in the process. Randall and Sulley battle, and after Mike returns and helps Sulley overpower Randall, the two reconcile, take Boo, and flee. Randall pursues them to the door vault, and a wild chase ensues among the millions of doors as they move in and out of the storage vault on rails to the factory floor. Boo’s laughter causes all the doors to activate at once, allowing the monsters to freely pass in and out of the human world.

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Randall attempts to kill Sulley, but Boo overcomes her fear and attacks him, enabling Sulley to catch him. Sulley and Mike then trap Randall in the human world, where two residents at a trailer park mistake him for an alligator and beat him with a shovel. Sulley and Mike take Boo and her door to the training room, and trick Waternoose into revealing his plot with Randall, while Mike secretly records the entire conversation for the CDA to review. The CDA arrests Waternoose, and it is revealed that Roz, the scare floor secretary, is the CDA’s leader. Roz thanks Sulley and Mike for their help, orders them to return Boo home, and has Boo’s door demolished to prevent any further contact with her.

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With the factory temporarily shut down, Sulley is named the new CEO of Monsters, Inc. Under his leadership, the energy crisis is solved by harvesting children’s laughter instead of screams, as laughter has been found to be ten times more potent. Mike takes Sulley aside, revealing he has rebuilt Boo’s door. It needs one final piece, which Sulley took as a memento, in order to work. Sulley puts the door chip into place, enters and joyfully reunites with Boo.

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Background:

“When we were making Toy Story, everybody came up to me and said ‘Hey, I totally believed that my toys came to life when I left the room.’ So when Disney asked us to do some more films, I wanted to tap into a childlike notion that was similar to that. I knew monsters were coming out of my closet when I was a kid. So I said, ‘Hey, let’s do a film about monsters.'” – Pete Docter

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By early-February 1997, Docter had drafted a treatment together with Harley Jessup, Jill Culton, and Jeff Pidgeon. Docter pitched the story to Disney with some initial artwork on February 4 that year. At this pitch meeting, longtime Disney animator Joe Grant 1 suggested the title Monsters, Inc., a play on the title of a gangster film Murder, Inc. Development artist Ricky Nierva drew a concept sketch of a rounded, one-eyed monster as a concept for the sidekick, and Mike Wazowski was born.

Animation: The animators had a challenge in creating Sully’s fur, which contained 2,320,413 individual hairs. Each hair had to create it’s own shadow. Without it, the fur would look flat and unrealistic. Pixar created a new fur simulation program called Fizt, which allowed the fur to react in a more natural way. It also controlled the movement of Boo’s clothes.

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The complexity of the shots in the film, including elaborate sets such as the door vault, required more computing power to render than any of Pixar’s earlier efforts combined.

Music & Songs: Monsters Inc. was Randy Newman’s fourth feature film collaboration with Pixar. The end credits song “If I Didn’t Have You” was sung by John Goodman and Billy Crystal. 2

Voice Cast:

John Goodman returns as James P. “Sulley” Sullivan. Billy Crystal as Michael “Mike” Wazowski. Crystal’s earliest prominent role was as Jodie Dallas on Soap, one of the first unambiguously gay characters in the cast of an American television series. He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the 1984-85 season. Film roles include This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, City Slickers, Mr. Saturday Night, Forget Paris, Analyze This, America’s Sweethearts, Analyze That, and Parental Guidance. He has hosted the Academy Awards nine times.

Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs. His many films include Parting Glances, New York Stories, Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Desperado, Pulp Fiction, Con Air, Armageddon, The Grey Zone, Ghost World, Big Fish, and The Death of Stalin. He has appeared in many films by the Coen brothers: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski. From 2010 to 2014, he portrayed Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the critically acclaimed series Boardwalk Empire. 3 James Coburn 4 as Henry J. Waternoose III. He appeared in action fioms such as The Magnificent Seven, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Charade, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Duck, You Sucker!, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Cross of Iron. He appeared in cameos and supporting roles in The Muppet Movie, Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, 5 and Payback.

Jennifer Tilly as Celia Mae. She is best known for her Academy Award nominated role as Olive Neal in the film Bullets over Broadway. Her other film roles include Let It Ride, Made in America, Bound, Liar Liar, and Bride of Chucky. She provides the voice of Bonnie Swanson on Family Guy. Bob Peterson as Roz. A Pixar animator, he will go on to voice several other characters in Pixar films.

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Frank Oz as Jeff Fungus. He is best known as a puppeteer, performing the Muppet characters of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle in The Muppet Show, and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover in Sesame Street. He is also known for the role of Yoda in the Star Wars series. His work as a director includes Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, In & Out, Bowfinger, The Score, Death at a Funeral, and the series Leverage.

Mary Gibbs plays Mary “Boo.” 6

Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? : In this film, John plays the Abominable Snowman.

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Pizza Planet Truck: It is seen next to the trailer where Randall finds himself- the same trailer from A Bug’s Life.

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A 113: A113 can be seen listed on the walls of where the doors go to.

Critical Reception: James Berardinelli gave the film 3​1⁄2 stars out of 4 and wrote that the film was “one of those rare family films that parents can enjoy (rather than endure) along with their kids.” Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, calling it “cheerful, high-energy fun, and like the other Pixar movies, has a running supply of gags and references aimed at grownups.” Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly gave the film a “B” grade and praised the film’s animation, stating “Everything from Pixar Animation Studios – the snazzy, cutting-edge computer animation outfit – looks really, really terrific and unspools with a liberated, heppest-moms-and-dads-on-the-block iconoclasm.”

Legacy: Monsters, Inc. has inspired three attractions at Disney theme parks around the world. In 2006 “Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!” opened at Disney California Adventure. In 2007, “Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor” opened at The Magic Kingdom, replacing “The Timekeeper.” In 2009 “Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek” opened at Tokyo Disneyland.

An animated short, Mike’s New Car, was made by Pixar in 2002. A prequel, titled Monsters University, was released on June 21, 2013. John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi reprised their roles of Sulley, Mike, and Randall, while Dan Scanlon directed the film.

Video Games:

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  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Monsters, Inc. Scream Team
  • Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena.
  • Kingdom Heart III will have Monstropolis as a playable level

My take: This movie is packed full of funny moments, and a lot of little puns. Crystal and Goodman are perfect together. I kind of like the idea of the monster in the closet being more scared of you (and that laughter is more powerful than screams).

Next Week: We head to Hawaii