Director’s Commentary Track Review – Monster’s Inc.

Monsters Inc Screencap Hidden City Cafe

Monster’s, Inc. is one of Julie’s favorite Pixar films, and in this review, we will be highlighting both the Director’s Commentary Track of the Blu-Ray (with Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton, and John Lasseter) as well as the round-table discussion (with Peter Docter, Bob Peterson, Darla K. Anderson, and Lee Unkrich).

The round-table discussion was filmed with Pete, Bob, Darla, and Lee sitting inside the Hidden City Cafe (a real restaurant near Pixar Studios) – which you can see in the Monster’s, Inc. film as they gave a nod to the cafe – though I doubt the real cafe sells diesel (as seen on the window).

During the round-table discussion, the first thing they discussed was that in the Monster’s, Inc. extras they have an unexplained chimpanzee in the background of a lot of the studio shots. They all thought it would be hilarious to have the chimp in the background and never explain it. Bob Peterson said that it was hilarious when the monkey was in the studio and he was trying to do a storyboard pitch and the chimp was wandering around knocking things over and playing with the storyboards – Bob didn’t know what to do! Lee Unkrich, who loves chimps – said it was one of the greatest days of his life to have the chimp at Pixar.

The title sequence was originally going to begin with a child in bed as a monster scared him, but they decided to change it to the animated closet door sequence with lively music to show the audience that this is a “fun” film, not a scary one.

The opening bedroom scene of the movie (storyboarded by Nate Stanton) was actually the first scene that the crew animated – ironically though, it was the last scene to be finished. The crew was worried that the scene seemed too scary and finally decided to have Thaddeus Bile (voiced by Pixarian Jeff Pidgeon) trash the room as they were really making it clear that this was NOT going to be a scary movie – the key concept was that monsters are scared of the kids.

In the same scene when Flint (Bonnie Hunt’s character) rewinds the scream footage – you can notice a series of numbers above the playback buttons. The number is the phone number to Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA.

Sulley’s introduction to the film was originally going to have him roaring into the camera. It was Bob Peterson who came in at the 11th hour with the idea of Mike Wazowski doing a radio voice and introducing him into the film as he is sleeping.

Monsters Inc Screencap plaque

When Mike and Sulley are featured in the Monster’s, Inc. commercial you can see a child on a monitor in the background – this image is very similar to how the Pixar animators see a scene when animating it because it is shown without the light or shading added to the scene.

Monsters Inc Screencap VR

Originally in the story, the monsters were scaring kids just because they wanted to, but over time they realized that they had to have a reason for it so Andrew Stanton came up with the idea that the screams were needed to power their city.  There was originally supposed to be a rival company that Monsters Inc. would be competing against called Fearco. While Monsters Inc scared with their patented “through the door” method, Fearco used the outdated, “under the bed” method. 

Did you know?

Although it’s been said quite a bit (but we still find this interesting), Billy Crystal was first offered the voice role of Buzz Lightyear but then turned it down – later saying that he regretted his decision.  Good thing the character of Mike Wazowski came along as there is NO one else who could have brought him to life as Billy did.

When Sulley and Mike are walking to work they greet a monster named Ted. Ted was originally going to have a very famous monster roar, but Pixar was unable to obtain the rights to the audio, so they decided to go in the complete opposite direction and went with a chicken. As a side note, you can see Ted as a full-sized character at Hong Kong Disney Land during the Monsters, Inc. ride (as shown as a separate extra on the Blu-ray).

Monsters Inc Screencap Ted

Needleman and Smitty the two geeks at Monsters Inc were voiced by writer Dan Gerson who also wrote their lines. Dan did what’s called a “scratch vocal”, which means that Pixar usually doesn’t keep those vocal tracks, they are briefly inserted to help the scene come to life early in the process. Pete Docter knew right away that he wasn’t going to cast anyone else for the part because Dan’s work was perfect. With what has become somewhat of a tradition, it seems that many Pixar employees’ voice talents do make the final cut, just like Dan’s.

Monsters Inc Needleman and Smitty

Another “scratch vocal” was when Bob Peterson voiced Roz. The entire crew was howling with delight, even after the original storyline of Roz was cut back the crew re-worked Roz back in due to Bob’s voice.

Lee Unkrich worked with the storyboard artists on the Scare Floor scene as he envisioned this scene to have the camera constantly moving as well as a theme of everyone working together for a common goal.  Lee also notes that the up-beat music makes this scene even more special – a comment that we both couldn’t agree with more.

Yet another “scratch vocal” was that of Sam Black a programmer at Pixar who voiced the orange monster George Sanderson – the monster who keeps having a “2319” called upon him. The shaving of George caused some technical issues for the team because of his hair flying up and out of the curtain they put around him.

You can see in this image below that when the CDA member 00012 drags his foot away from the ring of hair surrounding George, he kicks some of the fur and it moves on the floor. This is a small detail that we take for granted in regular life or even in hand-drawn animation, but in the computer-animated world, any time two areas have to interact, they have to be carefully animated to both move at the same rate and at the same time. Lee Unkrich mentioned a quote that John Lasseter often says of Pixar – “We sand the underside of the drawers”. Lee chuckled and stated that it was another way of saying that all the details matter at Pixar.

Monsters Inc Screencap George Sanderson shave

You’ll also notice on the Scare Floor there is a list of all the monster’s scare totals as they approach breaking the all-time scare record. The crew spent a lot of time figuring out all the detail of the numbers on the scare floor – making sure that they properly averaged out how many “scare units” Sulley (#1) and Randall (#2) would have per day to reach the 100,000 mark and make it a realistic number for that day. This is a detail that may have gone unnoticed, however, we appreciate it. 

There are several monsters named after Pixar animators and we have called them out in the screenshot below. John Lasseter noted specifically that the monster on the bottom (#13, Gerson) only moves up one scream unit all day – he laughed and said it was pathetic! They did it as a funny joke.

Monsters Inc Screencap Scare Board

A fun fact was that all the screams were actually voiced by the crew’s own kids who were brought into the studios and told to scream at the top of their lungs!

Boo, voiced by Pixar story artist Rob Gibbs’ daughter Mary was only about two-and-a-half years old when they started filming. The character of Boo was originally drafted as older (seven to ten years old), but the crew changed her age as they wanted Boo to be more dependent on Sulley.

The team always knew that at some point in the movie they wanted Mike and Sulley to have a big falling out and in an earlier storyline, Mike was originally going to propose to Celia at Harryhausen’s restaurant. The crew thought the story was getting a little confusing and they didn’t want the split between Mike and Sulley to be Celia – they wanted it to be Boo, so they changed it up.

Harryhausen’s restaurant was named after the founder (Ray Harryhausen) of the stop-motion animation technique of “Dynamation” – which Lee mentions is very similar to how computer animation is done today.

Unkrich noted that one of the scenes that most disturbs him was the scene in Harryhausen’s when Mike and Celia are sitting at dinner they have a plate of eyeballs with toothpicks in them – it always grosses him out.

With the Pixar team was nearing the completion of the film, September 11th happened and among all the turmoil they realized that they should change one scene. Originally after Mike and Sulley rush out of Harryhausen’s and Mike says to Sulley, “that couldn’t have gone any worse” the CDA was supposed to blow up the restaurant as a decontamination effort. Thinking that it was no longer a funny gag in light of the recent events, the team decided to quarantine the building under a plasma dome instead.

Monsters Inc Screencap September 11 Change

In the news-crew interview scenes after the plasma dome engulfs Harryhausen’s, you can see that there are some monsters in the background who are waving just as you would see on any local news footage – a fun, yet very realistic addition to the scene.

Monsters Inc Screencap News

When Boo is at Mike and Sulley’s house, the candlelight lighting was really hard on the animation team – as each flame has its own pulsation of light. The animators had to animate the scene, then wait a day for it to render before they could even see how it looked.

The picture that Boo draws of her and Sulley was originally drawn by Pixar animator Harley Jessup who then took the drawing home and had his then five-year-old son Graham recreate it – the result which lands in the film.

Monsters Inc Screencap Boo Kitty Sketch

One of the cheats in the movie that the animators let slide was when Boo giggles in the bathroom while playing hide-and-seek with Sulley at Monsters Inc. headquarters, the lights do not flicker – which they should since laughter is so powerful (and it was unfiltered). The animators wanted Boo to be cute and charming and not have it be a big story point each time she giggled.

Another one of the cheats in the movie was with Randall – how he could blend into the background and become invisible as he moved around the scene. The animators took that liberty as he moved around the scene, rather than only being able to match a patterned background behind him.

Monsters Inc Screencap Randall Disappear

This really isn’t a note from the director’s cut, but one part that T.J. always loves during the movie is the animation of Sulley when he thinks Boo is going through the trash compactor. This scene was animated by Doug Sweetland and we just wanted to give a nod to Doug’s great work.

Monsters Inc Screencap Sulley Doug Sweetland

The original entrance to the secret lair at Monsters Inc headquarters was going to be through a candy machine by ordering a piece of candy called “Juicy Fright” – however, they decided to make the entrance more inconspicuous and went with a wall of tools instead. They thought that if it were a vending machine that it would draw attention and a wall of tools you may just pass by (which is what you want for a secret entrance).

Monsters Inc Screencap Sulley

The scene where Mike and Sulley are fighting after they are banished (right before they meet Yeti) was a very complex scene from a technical standpoint. The directing team wanted to have Mike and Sulley fighting while rolling down the hill with the wind aggressively blowing snow in many directions. They also wanted the wind to blow Sulley’s fur around realistically with some of the snow sticking to it as the wind would be whipping in multiple directions.

The technical team said that they couldn’t do it but the directing team kept pushing and saying that they “had to have it” and eventually the technical team came through and delivered one of the most technically in-depth scenes of the movie. Because of the issues they had getting their vision to come to life on this scene, any task that seems nearly impossible to overcome at Pixar has become known as a “Yeti’s cave”.

As mentioned above, Sulley’s fur was one of the team’s biggest technical problems as well as accomplishments. This was especially true in the scene where Mike and Sulley are falling, along with a door from the track above.

The animation team actually animated Sulley completely bald and afterward, another system adds his fur (almost three million individual hairs) and then a simulation program adds motion to the fur as it passes through the air. They pay a small nod to the simulation program they created at the end of the film by having Sulley press a button with the letters “FIZT” (the name of the simulation program) on it to enable Boo’s door.

We’ve seen a lot of mentions of the hidden Nemo in the scene where Sulley is taking Boo back to her room, but there is another hidden Nemo before that scene right before they throw Randall into the door that leads him to the mobile home.

Monsters Inc Screencap Nemo Easter Egg

In one of the final laugh floor scenes, there is a banner with the words “Think Funny” on it – this was an homage to CEO Steve Jobs (Apple’s slogan was “Think Different”). Another tribute to Jobs was on the back of the magazine that Mike and Sully are on. You can clearly see it’s an interpretation of an Apple ad that says “Introducing the all-new E2407 with the K3 chip”. The logo appears to be a spiky apple shape that says “Scare Different”. It makes us wonder if there are any meanings behind E2407 or K3?

Lee Unkrich also pointed out that the laugh tanks are much larger than the scare tanks, therefore selling the fact that laughs are far more powerful than screams – they needed bigger tanks.

Another thing that we noticed and thought was humorous was the sign on the wall for the “10 Rules of Comedy”, those rules are:

  1. Punchline doesn’t mean hit the kid.
  2. Don’t howl at your own jokes.
  3. Tentacles: funny. Razor sharp claws: not funny.
  4. Multiple heads should speak one-at-a-time.
  5. No claws for tickling.
  6. Scared kids don’t laugh.
  7. Try not to hurt the audience.
  8. Always keep sharp spikes in!
  9. You won’t get a laugh if you don’t take a bath.
  10. Never let them see you slobber.
Monsters Inc Screencap 10 Rules of Comedy

Pete also mentions that he wanted to get his hands dirty and animate throughout the film, but because he was so busy with his directorial duties he didn’t have a lot of time to do so. The exception is for the final scene where Sulley peeks in Boo’s door to see her again.

In the original audience tests, the crowd reaction was overwhelming that they wanted to see Boo again – and specifically, they wanted to see Boo and Sulley reunite. Pete mentioned that a lot of companies may take those notes and go animate it but he said that he didn’t feel that anything they would show between Boo and Sulley would be stronger than what was already in the viewers’ minds. Bob Peterson noted that the final scene, animated by Pete, gives the film a feeling of hope for the future – we couldn’t agree more.

The round-table discussion also leaves us with one hint of the upcoming film, Monsters University when the team holds up their glasses and says how fun the process was…then they say, “let’s do it again” and look at each other with raised eyebrows.

If you liked this review, don’t miss our write-up of The Art of Monsters, Inc.

Comments 7
  1. Hello T.J. and Julie,I just came across this blog from Lee Unkrich's twitter and it is fantastic! I was just wondering if you knew what the joke is on the old scare ranking board is at the end of the movie? I have been trying to read it for years.

  2. We are thrilled to hear that you like are site. The joke at the end of that scene is:The doctor says to the patient, “What seems to be the trouble?” Raising his arm, the patient says, “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor says, “Don’t do that.”If there is anything that you would like to see on our site, just let us know. Thanks again.

  3. I just came across this blog, and totally loved it. You guys sure put a lot of efforts in keeping us up with all the news and reviews, thanks!On this particular review, I just want to mention the famous Pixar Easter Egg, or the lack thereof, in Monsters Inc. I was hoping the directors would mention it one way or another on the commentary track, but I guess not. This is as far as I can spot it in the movie:

  4. Thank you for your comment – I actually have looked at that screenshot a bunch of times, but we just can convince ourselves that it's an official A113 reference! 🙂 We're actually scouring the Monsters Inc. movie right now to try and look for the A113 again since it's being talked about a fair amount on the various Pixar message boards again. Keep an eye out on our site in the coming months as well – we're looking to put together a full list of Easter Eggs broken down by all of the movies.Thank you again for your comment – we're glad you like the site!

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