I am of the generation that grew up with Pixar, and I constantly watched Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Finding Nemo. Don't even get me started on my first major heartbreak while watching the first 10 minutes of Up. But my favorite early Pixar film of all time has to be Monsters, Inc. It is childhood wonder brought to life while confronting the strange and unavoidable circumstances of life.
In the animated film, monsters Sully (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowki (Billy Crystal) are successful employees at a renewable energy company that harness the screams of human children to light their city. Life is going great for the two until a child named Boo finds her way into the monsters' world.
The film has a unique premise that oddly enough teaches responsibility, acceptance, and embracing change, but the director of Pixar was nervous to greenlight the project for valid reasons. I mean, monsters creep out of the closet and scare children for a living. What parent wants their child to experience that kind of paranoia after watching the film? Luckily for us, the director had a very cathartic moment that lead to one of the most successful Pixar movies ever. Let's break down how he got there.
The difficulties behind Monsters, Inc.
Director Pete Docter revealed to Entertainment Weekly that he had some concerns about the film in 2016, saying, “At the time… I thought it was going to be a disaster and it wasn’t. People liked it and it [was] well-reviewed, and that was very gratifying because it was a heck of a long road, and very difficult for me personally.”
Pixar had three critically and commercially acclaimed animated features under its belt, gaining notoriety for its innovation in animation, so why did Docter find Monsters, Inc. to be personally difficult if the blueprint was already there?
The answer is simple. Docter had to fill in the shoes of the previous director, John Lasseter.
“...I was really having to follow in his footsteps and not be overshadowed by the way John likes to work, because I was trying to find my own way,” Docter told EW. “That was a whole very difficult road.”
The reputation of the company rested on Docter’s shoulders, and the pressure to deliver the fourth successful film of the studio was weighing him down.
Luckily for Docter, a ray of sunlight shone through the ominous cloud that hung over him as he tapped into the things he learned from Lasseter. Docter told Animation World Network that he shadowed Lasseter during Toy Story recording sessions and observed him working with the voice actors, which informed Docter on how he should run sessions with his cast.
The biggest challenge for Docter was getting the story right and making it as effective as possible. Docter told Entertainment Weekly that his team struggled with nailing down Sulley’s character. “I think the trick with Sulley was, we came into the project thinking there’s no way the audience will empathize with a monster who scares children,” Docter said.
Sulley was initially written to be a janitor, then a failed child scarer. It wasn’t until Docter and his team let go and opened themselves up to new and strange ideas that they were able to nail Sulley’s character, design, and arc. The story also played into kid-friendly horror, which often teaches kids that fear is a normal emotion to experience in a safe environment.
'Monsters, Inc.'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
While I was never scared by Monsters, Inc., there were many times that I found myself deeply engrossed with the emotional highpoints of the film, and I wasn’t the only one.
“...[P]eople come up to me, and they’re usually around 20, and they kind of say, ‘Monsters, Inc. was the movie that I grew up with,'” Doctor told EW. “And I recognized that look from myself, having grown up with the films of Disney and the Muppets, and meeting Frank Oz and Dave Goelz for the first time.”
Kid-friendly films hold a special place in cinema. Not only do they define a generation, but they allow kids to learn that all of these seemingly unnatural feelings they are feeling for the first time are normal and are nothing to be ashamed of. Monsters, Inc. is one of those films and is worth a rewatch if you haven’t seen it lately (especially for that fantastic end-musical sequence).
If Docter has not trusted his gut instinct and his team, we probably wouldn’t have the animated masterpiece that is Monsters, Inc. Trust your gut, because people will respond to what you are saying despite all of the monsters and darker moments throughout your project.
What kid-friendly film still resonates with you? Let us know why in the comments below!