Held over this weekend at the Story Theater is the animated hit Monsters University.
Ever since college-bound Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) was a little monster, he has dreamed of becoming a Scarer—and he knows better than anyone that the best Scarers come from Monsters University (MU). But during his first semester at MU, Mike’s plans are derailed when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, "Sulley" (voice of John Goodman), a natural-born Scarer. The pair’s out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of the University’s elite Scare Program. To make matters worse, they realize they will have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right.
Welcome to "MU"
"We wanted MU to be Mike’s story," says director Dan Scanlon. "His drive and sincerity are so compelling — his quest so personal."
From the beginning, Scanlon was drawn to the idea of self-discovery. "Setting the story at the time when Mike is first venturing into the world by himself allowed us to delve into his journey of self-awareness, experiencing with him the fun, the ups and downs, the friendships and the revelations that come with growing up. It’s during these years, whether in college or not, that we tend to learn who we are. And it’s not necessarily who we thought we were."
"Mike is self-assured, unwavering in his convictions," says producer Kori Rae. "But Mike’s dream — unlike Mike — is outsized. It never occurs to him that he might not realize his goal. But we don’t always get what we want, including life-long dreams. It’s perhaps the hardest lesson for any of us to face, but it’s the benchmark of maturity."
When One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Pete Docter, director of Monsters, Inc., played a key role in developing major themes in Monsters University (rated G for all audiences; and with a running time of 110 min.). "One theme that came out really early was this idea that when one door closes, another door opens," says Docter. "Doors were so central to the first film visually, so this idea really stood out. We realized that the main message in so many movies — especially those for kids — is, ‘If you try hard enough and believe in yourself, you can do anything!’ And that’s not a bad message, but it’s not always truthful. What do you do when your dream is crushed?"
According to the filmmakers, Mike’s story — and the fact that he doesn’t accomplish what he sets out to do — not only makes the story more interesting, it makes it more relatable. "A big part of this film is facing reality," says story supervisor Kelsey Mann. "Sometimes it’s harsh and unfair, but that’s okay. It just means you were meant to do something else, something that ultimately might be more rewarding."
Lasseter agrees. "College is the time when we all have so much optimism and confidence that we can change the world. We have dreams and goals. We’re unstoppable. And then reality sets in and we start hitting closed doors. It’s what you do when you hit a closed door — it’s what you do when your dream is shattered that really formulates who you are."
Scanlon believes the key to figuring these issues out is often revealed through the relationships we form. "No matter how hard we try, we can’t do it alone. Nobody can. So we turn to others — and they turn to us — and we really start working on what we’re going to be. It really does take a village, I think. The tricky part is putting together the right team."
But that’s not always easy, as Mike learns. James P. Sullivan, Mike’s nemesis-turned-teammate, isn’t yet the big teddy bear of a monster who will one day reign at Monsters, Inc. From the moment he steps foot on MU’s campus, Sulley’s full of attitude and bravado — he just wants to have fun. As a natural-born Scarer, Sulley figures he doesn’t have to try that hard to succeed. "His lackadaisical nature really gets under Mike’s skin," says screenwriter Daniel Gerson. "It just makes Mike nuts that Sulley doesn’t respect the opportunity enough to work hard — or at all."
Adds screenwriter Robert L. Baird, "And it makes Sulley crazy that this little lime-green ball of determination is excelling in class, actually out-Scaring him, a monster who was born to Scare. He starts to doubt himself, which just fuels the competition between them."
"When it all goes south, it’s not pretty," says Rae. "They get kicked out of the Scare Program by the Dean herself; their dreams are crushed. But as fate would have it, they’re forced to work together to make things right. The unlikely bonds they form with a group of misfits, and how they grow — individually and as friends — results in a very funny, very touching story that at its heart is completely relatable to people of almost every age."
Of course, things don’t work out exactly like they want. Maybe — just maybe — says Mann, they work out better, showcasing exactly why Mike and Sulley were always meant to be friends. "Mike is really good at lifting others up. In his quest for this unattainable dream, he becomes a great coach, making Sulley a hundred times better than he is on his own. They’re really a team and we get to see how that happens.
—taken from the production notes of Monsters University, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios