Pixar cemented its reputation for genius with 2001’s Monsters, Inc., its fourth film following Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug’s Life. The story of two monsters, a lost little girl, and too many doors to count hasn’t dimmed in the years since its premiere: Monsters, Inc. has brought laughter, tears, and more than a few scares to countless kids and adults around the world. No wonder Pixar revisited Mike, Sulley, and all the other denizens of the monster world in 2013’s Monsters University.
So much time has passed since the movie’s initial release that those who first saw it at Boo’s age are now full-fledged adults. If you’re one of those fans, you might find yourself spotting a few new details here and there throughout the film. Grown-ups and kids might agree on Monsters, Inc.‘s greatness, but there’s a whole lot of the movie that goes over the latter group’s head. Get ready for rousing chorus of "Put That Thing Back Where It Came From, or So Help Me," because it’s time to take a look at all the things only adults notice in Monsters, Inc.
Mike and Sulley’s apartment is full of surprises
After a gorgeously animated opening title sequence and a peek into the world of scare training, we move to the home of the top scarer, James P. Sullivan, better known as Sulley. An early morning training montage ensues, in which Sulley and Mike, his best friend and roommate, exercise, go over scare tactics, and fight off the dangers of plaque in the bathroom.
Take a moment to linger on the details of their apartment with adult eyes, however, and you’ll discover a whole new level of world building. Mike and Sulley’s apartment is full of cleverly monster-fied real-world items. Check out the speakers and the fireplace — both of them are designed to look like they have fangs. Their door frame sports eyes, making it look like a monster’s grimacing face. Beside it sits their television, which has little horns on top. Beneath it all is the rug, sporting a poison-green serpent all around its border. All of it adds up to a cleverly designed and beautifully furnished monster apartment.
Monstropolis’ many newspapers and magazines
Like any modern society, the world of Monstropolis is filled with magazines, newspapers, and tabloids that keep citizens well informed on the issues of the day — or at least entertained. But, like with everything in Monsters, Inc., a boatload of care and thought was put into what these artifacts of print media might look like in a monster world.
The local newspaper, the Monstropolis Horn, can be seen early on in the film, evidencing one of the movie’s central plot points: The energy crisis catalyzing the events of the story. Roz is later seen reading the Daily Glob, a delightfully decorated tabloid featuring a story on a five-headed baby (cause for celebration in this world), ads for fur replacement, and a look into the "secret diary" of an apparently scandalous centaur. At the end of the film, Mike is thrilled to see his face on the cover of the magazine Business Shriek … even though they placed the bar code right on top of his face.
Mike and Sulley’s walk to work
On their walk to work, Mike and Sulley give us a glimpse of the wonderfully strange world of Monstropolis on a typical weekday morning. The city is a charmingly monster-fied version of an American city: It’s a bustling town full of people on their way to work, who all just happen to sport tentacles, multiple eyes, and/or neon-colored fur. Visible amidst the coffee-sipping monsters and creepily creative architecture, one can glimpse some particularly enjoyable Easter eggs.
One of the businesses we get a look at is the Hidden City Cafe. This establishment takes its name from the real world cafe where top creatives at Pixar developed the stories for A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL-E during one truly legendary lunch hour. We also get a peek at Tony’s Grossery (get it? Gross-ery?) where some disgustingly delicious foods are being sold, such as spineapple, mangle fruit, spleen beans, bilge beans, and, of course, blood oranges. Just another scarily ordinary day in Monstropolis.
A fancy restaurant with a famous name
It’s Celia’s birthday, and Mike’s got a reservation at Harryhausen’s, one of Monstropolis’ most renowned restaurants. Not only does it have delicious food and wonderful atmosphere (plus a chef who knows his way around a knife), it also takes its name from one of history’s most celebrated filmmakers, who likely served as a major inspiration for Monsters, Inc.
Who is this pioneer of the screen? We’re talking about Ray Harryhausen, known for his brilliant, trailblazing work in the world of stop-motion animation. Harryhausen’s work can be seen in such epics as Jason and the Argonauts, First Men in the Moon, and Clash of the Titans. His groundbreaking work in bringing monstrous creations to life has inspired countless animators, directors, and artists including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Peter Jackson. Edgar Wright summed it up best: Harryhausen "made [us] believe in monsters." It’s only natural, then, that Monstropolis contain a celebrated establishment bearing his name.
Business on the scare floor
As Roz will tell you any day of the week, nothing is more important than filing your paperwork at the end of the day at Monsters, Inc. But what minutiae is covered in those critically important scaring reports? If you hit the pause button when Mike opens up his scare report, you can get a glimpse of the kind of info that each scarer has on their kid. A classic scare report includes basic information on each child (name, age, gender, race, etc), a history section, a notes section, and even a library-style log of what dates the child has been previously scared on.
After you’ve eyeballed these forms, take a closer look at the keypad attached to each door on the scare floor. Always activated by a unique key card, some of the keys seem strange and indecipherable (what exactly do FIZT and IKT stand for?) while some look a whole lot like buttons on real world machinery. Most notable and essential of all is the giant EJECT button near the bottom. Even in the world of monsters, you can’t escape paperwork, safety equipment, or confusingly labeled interfaces.
One of the most terrifying aspects of Randall, the reptilian villain of Monsters, Inc., is his sneaky camouflage powers. He’s not just a jerk — he’s a jerk who slithers his way through every crevice and hallway of our heroes’ workplace. It is this very skill that makes him a celebrated employee — terrifying kids is a whole lot easier when you can blend in with their toys. Randall is obnoxious, but his results make him Mike and Sulley’s closest competitor in scaring.
To warm up for a long day of work, Randall and his partner Fungus run through a series of varied backgrounds which Randall must rapidly blend in against. The final background Randall transforms to match is a charming blue sky covered in clouds — the same pattern that lines the walls of Andy’s room in Toy Story. Those looking to find inextricable links between Pixar films have some great evidence in this aesthetic choice made by the Pixar animators.
Who’s up on the scare board?
Ah, the scare board. That giant screen hanging above the scare floor, reminding everyone how many screams they’ve obtained and who has the most screams of all. As per usual, the top two slots are taken by Sulley and Randall, engaged in a fight to break the all-time scare record. But you might be wondering who those scarers lurking below them are, and why some of those names might seem familiar.
As the most Pixar-savvy among us have likely already realized, most of these monsters have the same names as many of the artists who work at the famed computer animation studio. The board features names including Ranft (the late Joe Ranft), Luckey (the late Bud Luckey), Rivera (Jonas Rivera), Peterson (the voice of Roz herself, Bob Peterson), and so on. It’s another fun way of honoring the many creators who helped bring this classic story to life, even if none of them have a chance of breaking into the top two slots.
Once Boo has found her way into the monster world, our heroes must find a way to sneak her into work with them. But as we already know, monsters believe that human children are highly toxic. Even the sight of a human child is cause to alert the Child Detection Agency, or CDA, for short. Mike and Sulley are forced to disguise Boo as a monster herself, to make sure no one realizes they’re carting around the monster equivalent of Polonium.
Boo’s sneaky disguise is pretty good, considering the bind Mike and Sulley are in: It makes her look like a purple googly-eyed creature with four tentacles in place of human limbs. It’s also a master class in DIY creation, cleverly constructed from various elements of Mike and Sulley’s home furnishings. The scaly purple skin is fashioned from their armchair, her eyeballs are the bulbs from Mike’s desk, her hair is pulled from a stray mop, the scales on her back appear to be binder clips, and her tentacles are made out of some bubble-wrap-esque material. If scaring doesn’t end up working out for them, Mike and Sulley certainly shouldn’t have an issue breaking into the fashion industry.
The Yeti’s cave
After Mike and Sulley stumble into Randall and Waternoose’s devious plan to fix Monstropolis’ scream shortage through any means necessary, they are exiled to the Himalayas. But they’re not alone there, as it turns out — they’re in the company of the Abominable Snowman, voiced by Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger.
Take a peek around the Snowman’s cave and you’ll see some delightful details that offer a further glimpse into the life of this chilly recluse. Sharp eyes will catch a prominent box of Swedish lingonberry jam, a celebrated staple food you might know from IKEA. There’s also a sign from the 30,000 foot mark on Mount Everest, and a heck of a lot of climbing gear. Whatever he’s up to in that frozen cave of his, the Abominable Snowman is certainly working to make the most of his winter wonderland. Nordic desserts and mountain climbing are the stuff of a legendary vacation.
A familiar truck in an unfamiliar place
If you watch enough Pixar films, you start to pick up on some familiar Easter eggs that the studio likes to pepper each of their films with. One reference in particular always seems to find its way into their films: The Pizza Planet truck, which made its debut in Toy Story. The studio has proven to be extra sneaky in hiding this familiar vehicle in their films over the years — seriously, some of its appearances are blink-and-you-miss-it affairs. So where is it hiding in the world of Monstropolis?
If you guessed that some kind of monster-fied Pizza Planet exists in the monster world, you’re wrong. Rather, the truck appears in our own world, parked right next to the trailer where Randall is sent at the end of the film. This trailer is an Easter egg itself, actually: It’s the same trailer located outside the bugs’ world in A Bug’s Life. Though Randall will forever spend his days trying to avoid being attacked by gator-hating humans, maybe he can try and get some delicious pizza out of the deal, if nothing else.
The toys in Boo’s room
As is to be expected with any Pixar feature, the waterworks arrive in full force towards the end of Monsters, Inc. Having restored her to the human world, Sulley is forced to part ways with little Boo. It’s a devastatingly emotional scene, punctuated by Randy Newman’s gut-wrenching score that refuses to leave a single eye dry. What sort of cruel world tears a two-year-old and her beloved "Kitty" apart?
Through your haze of tears, you might not have noticed all of the Pixar-themed toys that Boo has lying around her room. What’s this lucky little girl playing with? Some serious studio memorabilia, including the classic Pixar ball (sometimes known as the "Luxo ball"), a Jessie doll, and a familiar looking clownfish, who would go on to make his screen debut in Pixar’s next feature, Finding Nemo. Who knew that Boo was such a Pixar fan? Anyways, back to the tear-jerking emotional climax.