As I sat in the theater and immersed myself into the world of Monsters University it’s easy to forget all of the work that went into it. There is so much more to a movie than a script, characters, a story line and vision- although that’s all a huge part of it. People behind the scenes like Dan Scanlon also need to answer a lot of questions not related to the actual components of the film.
Dan Scanlon is one of Pixar’s talented writers, storyboard artist and director. Originally from Michigan, Dan and his wife moved to San Francisco in 2001 when he began working at Pixar as a story board artist for Cars. He has also worked on Little Mermaid 2 and Brave but Monsters University is his first time directing a full length animated film.
In the movie Monsters Inc. Mike says to Sully “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the 4th grade.” It’s things like these that aren’t actual issues in the film but need to be addressed. Dan Scanlon and his team recognized right away that they would need to work around this statement. Inevitably they realized that in order to keep true to that statement in it’s most literal sense it would actually hurt the film. Instead they chose to work with the spirit of that statement – the fact that Mike and Sully go way back. Here is what Dan had to say about it.
That particular line is something a lot of people have brought up, and we certainly noticed it right away when we started developing the idea. It can be really tough when you have a moment like that. We really explored it a lot. We did several versions of the film where we actually showed the guys meeting when they were younger and one of the things that ended up happening is we realized that, in order to service that particular line, we were hurting the story.
We were hurting the story that we wanted to tell, which was the story of how these guys met, and how they became friends. It became clear that in order to respect that line, we would had to have made Monsters Elementary, which was not a story we wanted to tell. And the spirit of that line in the first film was to say, these two guys have known each other a long time. So we felt like, well, it still supports that idea to have them meet in college. So, let’s just imagine that you’ve been jealous of my good looks since fourth grade’s just a monster expression.
Another challenge that was really talked about within the dad blogging community was how to use fear in what’s essentially a childrens movie – how to use it, how to recognize how much is too much.
I think initially we always sort of make these movies for ourselves, and our own families in mind as the gauge. But then we do test screenings and things to kind of get a feeling of that type of stuff. It is a tricky movie when you’re dealing with the issue of fear. The good thing is, the kids are still with the monsters. The monsters are still these sort of fun characters. And even when there’s intimidating monsters like her (Dean Hardscrabble), I think you’re still kind of with your main characters.
It is always a tough line. You want to make sure that there’s a story with a fear as we remember from being kids ourselves. It’s thrilling, too. It’s those great characters in films we remember from our childhood. They’re pretty scary. But you just always want to make sure you’re not hurting the experience…
Another tricky aspect of the film was creating the college “scene.” The college experience can mean a lot of things for a lot of people. One of the challenges was showing the college experience without taking it to far.
We’re always trying to do that (find that balance). But it is tricky. I mean, you want it to feel like college, and college is pretty wild. But, you know, we want it to be tasteful and so I feel like the good thing is is they’re monsters, so they can be wild but it’s no more than you would think of a little kid’s birthday party. They’re running around, and hanging from things. And it was, like, yeah, that still works, you know? Guys hanging from the ceiling and throwing things around…
Personally, I think they got an A+. They movie and the college life in general appeals to every one. Plus, they get bonus points for giving nods to classic 80′s movies about college. Look for those little homages throughout Monsters University.
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