Q&A on Pixar’s Monsters University

In 2001, Pixar Animation Studio continued its unprecedented streak of both critically praised and financially successful films with director Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc.

Freshman-ster · Monsters University follows a young Mike and Sully before they teamed up as the top scaring duo at Monsters, Inc. - Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Freshman-ster · Monsters University follows a young Mike and Sully before they teamed up as the top scaring duo at Monsters, Inc. – Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios


The film featured the instantly iconic pairing of Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, played by Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Both characters drew huge laughs, appealed to viewers of all ages and generated large ancillary profits through merchandise.

Thus, the universe of Monsters, Inc. became one the executives at Disney/Pixar and audiences alike desperately wanted to travel back into.

Finally, after 12 years, Pixar’s creative team is set to release a new monsters film: Monsters University, which will have a special advanced screening at the Norris Cinema Theatre on Friday.

Having shown none of Mike and Sulley’s backstory in the original, Pixar tapped director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae to create a prequel.

Scanlon and Rae have both worked at Pixar for over a decade. Scanlon began in 2001 as a storyboard artist. His early work included illustrations for Cars and Toy Story 3. He also co-directed the DVD short film Mater and the Ghostlight with Pixar head John Lasseter, all the while writing and directing his own live-action film, Tracy, in 2009. Monsters University marks his first foray in animation directing.

Rae joined the Pixar family in 1993, beginning her work in the studio’s commercial division. After finding success at each level of production, Rae rose through the ranks, collaborating on such praised projects as Toy Story 2, The Incredibles and Up. With Monsters University, Rae steps into the lead producer’s chair for the first time on a feature-length film.

Scanlon and Rae joined an extensive group of writers from various college newspapers, including the Daily Trojan, to discuss their work on Monsters University. The following Q & A highlights the best of their conversation.


Daily Trojan: How did the idea of a prequel for Monsters, Inc. come about?

Scanlon: Well, early on we loved the characters of Mike and Sulley and their relationship and we always wanted to do something with them again. So we kind of got together and talked about what that might be. That’s when we started thinking about how these guys met, which led naturally to the college idea, and we loved the idea of doing something in a university — just the opportunity for sort-of-fun monster antics that could come out of that.

And that led us to the story of Mike and the difficulty when you arrive at college thinking you’re the best of the best but then you come up against some pretty stiff competition. So that was really the germ of the idea and the idea behind doing something that took place before, rather than after.


DT: How did you go about presenting a realistic, relatable view of college while staying family-friendly?

Scanlon: What are you talking about? College isn’t family-friendly? We had to be careful about it. The good thing is we were able to get a lot of wild, fun behavior that still reads as fun party college, but is probably no different than the wild, crazy stuff that goes on at an eight-year-old’s birthday party with knocking over tables, eating too much food, smashing things and screaming. So yes, it was a challenge.


DT: What was the creative process in crafting the prequel version of the characters?

Scanlon: We had to make them look younger, so our art department did a really good job trying to study how you make an eyeball look younger. And mainly we started to notice that thinning them up really helped. We were all a little thinner in college. We made the characters much thinner and brighter in color. And you know, Sulley is, in my eyes, a top scarer; he’s more muscular and big, so we thinned him up a bit here.

Rae: But it was important that they were recognizable — we had parameters that we wanted to make sure we kept to. We didn’t want to do anything too crazy because they still needed to look like Mike and Sulley and be recognized as Mike and Sulley without a whole lot of changes.


DT: What would you like audience members, specifically college students, to take away from this film?

Scanlon: We want it to be a really fun college movie, but we also want to touch something emotionally in people with our films. And we feel like this film is very much about what happens when you come up to a kind of closed door and how you get around that — how you let go of the thing that you think you absolutely have to be to be happy, in order to find out who you truly are.

I think that’s definitely something I experienced in college, that feeling of realizing “This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.”

Rae: Self-discovery and friendship and what that means as you go along the path of figuring out who you are and how important friendship is.


Monsters University opens this summer in 3D on June 21.