A Chat with Monsters University Director, Dan Scanlon at the #MonstersUEvent

I was sent to California to visit the Pixar Animation Studios. Flight, Hotel and meals were provided. Opinions of the events that I attended, people I met and things I saw are 100% my own.

Monsters University Director, Dan Scanlon
Monsters University Director, Dan Scanlon talks with press at Monsters University Long Lead Press Days. Pixar Animation Studios. Emeryville, California. April 9, 2013 (Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland/Pixar)

When I was at the MonstersUEvent back on my birthday in April I had the unique pleasure to talk with the director of Monsters University (Which arrives in Theaters June, 21 2013), Dan Scanlon. I was involved in a round table discussion with the other bloggers the day after screening 40 minutes of Monsters University, but I spoke one on one with Dan directly after seeing the movie. I was at the reception for the press after seeing Monsters University and Dan was talking with some people but then they moved on and he was all alone for a moment so I figured what the heck, I’ll go and talk with him.

Dan was a very personable guy. I had to ask him the burning question that I think most people who are fans of Monsters Inc wanted to ask. “What about the 4th grade thing?”. If you are unaware, in Monsters University Mike says to Sulley, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the 4th grade.” Yet, in Monsters University Mike and Sulley’s first meeting is in college. That bit of continuity was scrapped in favor of making a better story. If they were to stay true to the continuity then they would have had to make Monsters Elementary and that would not have been the stronger story. Essentially think of that line as something that establishes that these two guys have been good friends for a long time.

We also talked about scouting colleges to create the overall look of Monsters University. To me it has the feel of a New England type campus but that may just be my own personal bias since I went to school on a beautiful campus in New Hampshire. I asked is Dan’s own college experiences helped shape the film in any way. Dan went to an art college and his experience was different than that of the students at Monsters University. I thanked Dan and told him that I was really looking forward to seeing the rest of the movie when it comes out in June.

I also sat in on a roundtable Q&A with Dan Scanlon and the rest of the MosntersUEvent bloggers. Right out of the gate the question asked was about Mike and Sulley knowing each other since 4th Grade. I think that Dan answered that issue very well in the roundtable:

Dan: “So the specific thing you’re talking about is in the first film, Mike and Sulley actually say… Mike says to Sulley, you’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade. And so it’s a thing that a lot of people have brought up, and we certainly noticed it right away when we, started developing the idea. And 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 ended up realizing 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. So it was really Pete Doctor and John Lassiter who kind of came to me and said you kind of have to let that go. In the long run, it’s gonna hurt both movies if you don’t tell this right. 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 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.”

A question was asked: How long did it take for you to get to the college scenario?

Dan: “I think in the first film, in the early stages of the movie, they had actually talked about them being in college. So I think when the idea of going back came up, everyone was, like, oh! great college stuff!

It also gives you an opportunity to just get to see another monster world, or, you know, another place for monsters to go that seemed classic. And we, we’d never done a college movie. No one had ever really tried that, so, um, I think that was where the, the big idea… Or where the idea came from.

Monsters University Director, Dan Scanlon
Monsters University Director, Dan Scanlon talks with press at Monsters University Long Lead Press Days. Pixar Animation Studios. Emeryville, California. April 10, 2013 (Photo by Alexandra Ambrose/Pixar)

Then I asked: When you were researching for the movie did you take inspiration from any classic college type movies?

Dan: “I don’t know a specific one so much as that for some reason we noticed all the classic ones seem to be in the ‘80s. And I don’t know what it was about ‘80s. And we feel like our movies, we always try to keep them sort of (…) a vague time period. But, I think, we just thought, we have to put a touch of ‘80s in there. It was so there’s ever so slightly, when you watch the film you’ll notice these little homages to that

We talked more about the movie and the decision to make Dean Hardscrabble a female character. There was an opportunity to showcase more scarers then there was in the original movie and especially important to show a female scarer. Dena Hardscrabble if definitely one of the scarier scarers.

When discussing how the story came about Dan stated “And Mike’s story kept rising up to the top as the one that was the most important.” It is a story that more people can identify than with Sulley. Mike is the underdog and we like to root for the underdog. It is harder to root for the guy who coasts through everything and for whom things come naturally. We may love the guy but we aren’t emotionally rooting for him. We are emotionally invested in the guy who has to overcome hardships to achieve his dreams and who learns more about himself along the way. That is the story that I believe is being told in Monsters University and it is certainly compelling and fun. Find out for yourself when it is released June 21, 2013.

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