From Pixar's Closet
five years -- and dozens of rewrites -- for the story department
at Pixar Animation Studios to get the script for their latest
feature just right. Jim Hill now reveals some of the other possible
Monsters, Inc. storylines that movie-goers missed out on.
It's hard not to be impressed with Pixar Animation Studio's latest
success, Monsters, Inc., isn't it?
the film's made an absolute killing at the box office. After little
more than a month into the movie's domestic release, "Monsters,
Inc." has grossed over $200 million. (To put this in perspective:
you'd have to add together the domestic box office totals for
Walt Disney Pictures' last three animated releases [The Emperor's
New Groove: $87 million; Recess: School's Out: $36
million; and Atlantis: The Lost Empire: $83 million] before
you even came close to equaling what Monsters, Inc. has
earned just since its November 2nd debut.)
one has to wonder: Would this Pixar production still have been
as huge a hit with movie-goers this holiday season if Monsters,
Inc. had stuck with its original storyline?
storyline am I talking about? Well, instead of sweet two-year-old
Boo, imagine if Monsters, Inc. had been built around a
32-year-old computer programmer whose life becomes incredibly
complicated once his childhood fears and phobias suddenly become
an unlikely premise for a family film, doesn't it? Well, for almost
a year, this is the story idea that Monsters, Inc. director
Peter Docter seriously tried to turn into a workable screenplay.
According to this scenario: The hero of the film was supposed
to be a computer programmer who is leading this incredibly humdrum
life. The guy's career and love life were going nowhere. He's
at a dead end, spiritually and emotionally. All seems lost until
the guy's mother (who's in the process of turning his old bedroom
into a guest room) sends the computer programmer a box full of
his childhood belongings.
objects in this box is a book of a drawings that the computer
programmer made when he was a kid. "And what are these drawings
of?" you ask. The monsters that our hero used to dream up
back when he was six or seven. As the computer programmer opens
up this book, some loose pages flutter to the floor of his cubicle
at work. He thinks nothing of this... Until the monsters on these
pages suddenly spring to life, stepping out into the real world
and begin harassing the poor guy.
What was supposed
to follow ... Well, Docter was hoping that Pixar could produce
a film that would put a post-modern spin on that old 1950 Universal
Pictures / Jimmy Stewart classic, Harvey. You see, only
the computer programmer can see the monsters that were now bedeviling
him. None of this guy's co-workers are aware of the nightmarish
creatures that are now making this guy's life a living hell.
the film's story would be revealed that these monsters aren't
just any monsters. They were the actual physical incarnations
of the computer programmer's childhood fears. Phobias that continue
to hold this guy back even in his adult life. And -- as our hero
dealt with each of these creatures -- he'd end up confronting
one of his childhood fears. And once he did so ... That monster
I know, I
know. This story doesn't sound nearly as light-hearted and fun
as spending time on the Scare Floor with Mike & Sulley. But
that was really the whole point of the original version of "Monsters,
Inc." For the folks at Pixar were trying to do something
a little different, something a little more ambitious than Toy
Story, A Bug's Life or Toy Story II. They envisioned
this movie as being one that was supposed to have had a happy
but somewhat bittersweet ending. Docter was actually hoping that
audiences would tear up as the computer programmer confronted
his very last fear... which would cause the very last monster
(which the computer programmer had befriended) to fade from sight.
But -- in
the end -- Pixar's story team just couldn't figure out how to
make the film's central figure (IE: The nerdy computer programmer
who lacked self confidence) a compelling character that audiences
could really care about. In every draft of the story, this guy
kept getting upstaged by the monsters who were trying to teach
him how to overcome his fears; which is why Docter and his story
guys eventually gave up and -- after dropping the computer programmer
entirely -- decided to make the nightmarish creatures Monsters,
Inc.'s central characters. Now the big question is: How do
you make monsters sympathetic? How do you take deliberately unsightly,
scary characters and turn them into something that audiences can
care about, root for?
This is why
-- for the longest time -- the film's story called for Sulley
to be this completely downtrodden creature. According to this
version of the scenario: James P. Sullivan used to be the top
scarer at Monsters, Inc. ... Until some horrible kid-related incident
left the big blue guy with the Monstropolis equivalent of post
traumatic stress syndrome. Worse than that, this unexplained event
ruined Sulley's eyesight. Since Sulley can't see very well anymore
(He has to wear these big, thick set of prescription glasses),
he can't work the closets any longer.
Which is why
-- as this version of the movie opens -- Sulley has been demoted.
He now works out back on the factory's loading dock (well away
from the Scare Floor), piling up scream canisters and making them
ready for delivery. Everyone else who works at Monsters, Inc.
whispers behind the big blue guy's back about what has become
of the company's top scarer. The only person who's really still
kind to Sulley is Mike Wazowski, who (in this version of the story)
is Randall's Scare Assistant. Mike remembers what Sulley was like
back in the good old days... and treats the big guy with the respect
and good humor that he thinks the company's former top scarer
You see where
Docter and his story team were going with this version of Monsters,
Inc.? In spite of his somewhat monstrous appearance, James
P. Sullivan was -- almost from the very moment you saw him --
a highly sympathetic character. Someone with some very real problems
(IE: His deep fear of children, not to mention his horrible eyesight)
that had to be overcome. Which hopefully would make the somewhat
unsightly character someone audiences could root for.
The only problem
with this version of the Monsters, Inc. story is that...
Well, the backstory just took too long to tell. Plus it left audiences
with too many unanswered questions. Questions like:
* How exactly
did Sulley end up injuring his eyes?
* What was
this extremely traumatic incident that caused the big blue monster
to become so afraid of children?
importantly, why would a character who had had so many things
so tragically wrong the last time he was on the Scare Floor
ever go near
a closet door again?
of the script painted Monsters, Inc. story team (now lead
by Andrew Stanton, co-director of Pixar's 1998 hit, A Bug's
Life) into an awful corner, story-wise. Which was why -- in
the end -- they opted to drop Sulley's depressing backstory and
turn him back into Monsters, Inc.'s top scarer. Then -- based
on the chemistry that vocal performers John Goodman & Billy
Crystal had shown in the scenes that their characters had shared
-- it was then decided that Mike Wazowski would now become Sulley's
(not Randall's) Scare Assistant.
surely, the film's essential story pieces began to fall into place.
Still, the most important piece -- I.E. the human character that
Sulley would interact with -- continued to elude the
Monsters, Inc. story team. For the longest time, Boo (as the
character was now known) was a jaded 12-year-old girl. There were
also versions of the movie's storyline where Boo was a 10-year-old
tomboy, an 6-year-old spoiled brat, and even an 8-year-old boy.
But none of these variations of the film's seemingly essential
human character ended up helping the film. If anything, dealing
with all of Boo's dialogue tended to bog down the pace of Monsters,
It was only
when director Peter Docter convinced the folks at Pixar to allow
him to change the human character into a two-year-old girl who
could had only just begun to talk that Monsters, Inc. finally
began firing on all four cylinders. With all but a few lines of
Boo's dialogue eliminated, now the pace of the film picked up
big-time. And -- with a sweet little girl at the very heart of
the film (Someone that audiences would fall in love with the second
they saw her, as well as being someone that Sulley could easily
come to care about) -- the last piece of the story seemed to finally
be in place.
to say that the rest of production on Monsters, Inc. went
smoothly. From Peter Docter's first fumblings around for a solid
story idea back in 1996 'til today, the people at Pixar put in
five hard years of work on this film -- trying to get things just
right. And these guys were still on the job as late as June of
this year, when they were slipping additional gags into the movie's
introductory simulator room sequence -- trying to make audiences
aware as quickly as possible that Monsters, Inc.'s main
goal was to entertain -- not frighten -- youngsters.
all this last minute plussing of the picture didn't stop the folks
at Pixar from slipping a few in-jokes to Monsters, Inc.
Most of these gags, you folks are probably already aware of. But
have you heard about the Monsters, Inc. joke that won't
pay off 'til the Summer of 2003?
What am I
talking about? The next time you see this Pixar picture, pay very
close attention to the sequence toward the end of Monsters,
Inc. where Boo first reenters her bedroom. The little girl's
so happy to be back home that she's almost bouncing off the walls.
As Boo dances excitedly around the room, the toddler begins scooping
up toys and handing them to Sully.
Now I'm sure
(given that most everyone who reads Digital Media FX is a hardcore
computer animation fan) that all of you already know that the
doll that Boo handed Sully was actually Jessie from Disney / Pixar's
1999 release, Toy Story II. And some of you might also
have recognized that the rubber ball that the toddler hands to
her big blue furry friend is the one that's featured in Pixar's
1986 short, "Luxo, Jr."
But what about
that rubber clown fish? You know, the orange one with the wide
white stripes? That -- my friends -- is the title character of
Pixar's next project, Finding Nemo. This still-in-production
film deals with a boy clownfish who is kidnapped, spirited away
from his coral reef home. Nemo's dad must then journey through
numerous dangerous worlds -- above and below the water -- before
he can rescue his boy.
Disney / Pixar project isn't even supposed to hit theaters 'til
June 2003 . But -- from that point forward -- every child (or
adult) who watches Monsters, Inc. on video or DVD will
view this particular scene in the film in a whole new way. They'll
immediately realize that Nemo had been hiding in plain sight (so
to speak) in Boo's bedroom all along. But no one knew (except
you, me and everyone who works at Pixar) who that little rubber
fish really was ... 'til now.
Got any additional
secrets from Pixar's closet that you'd like to share? Just drop
me a line and -- if your story's any good -- I'll be
happy to post it here to share with the rest of the Digital Media
the Digital Media FX Monsters, Inc. Movie Site
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Jim Hill is
an award winning journalist who specializes in writing about the
entertainment industry. Hill's columns appear on Digital
Media FX around the 2nd and 16th of each month. Those
to the free Digital Media FX newsletter receive 24
hour advanced access to the columns before the general public.
of a log cabin hidden away in the woods of New Hampshire, Jim
is currently at work on an unauthorized history of the Walt Disney
World Resort. In addition, he writes for several online Websites.
He has a beautiful 7 year old daughter and three obnoxious cats.
You can email
Jim Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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