Interview with Monsters University Director Dan Scanlon #MonstersUEvent

Are you ready for Monsters University to hit theaters on June 21st? My kids and I can not wait to see this movie in the theater. Until then, we’ve been watching trailers on YouTube and the kids and my husband have been enjoying the tidbits I’ve been sharing with them about my behind the scenes look at the movie from my trip to Pixar in April.

During my orientation at Monsters University this spring, I sat down for a roundtable interview with Monsters University Director Dan Scanlon and this was especially exciting to hear his perspective. Here are some of the highlights of our interview with the talented Dan Scanlon. Dan has also worked on Cars and Toys Story 3. Talk about Pixar talent!

 On Fear in Family Movies…..How much is too much for kids? How do you decide how “scary” a movie should be? 

“I think initially we always sort of make these movies for ourselves, and with 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 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 that’s, you know, 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.  And so you just always want to make sure you’re not hurting the experience by taking too much out. “

 On the challenge of making a Prequel and trying to stay true to a specific line from Monsters Inc….

(Given Monsters University has Mike & Sulley meet in college and not when they were younger!) 

Specifically, in the first film, Mike and Sulley actually say this line…..

“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.  It’s in the long run, 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, well, it still supports that idea to have them meet in college.  So.  So, let’s just imagine that you’ve been jealous of my good looks since fourth grade’s just a monster expression.”

On how Monsters University connects to Dan’s personal college experience – Was he a Sulley party animal or a studious Mike? 

“You know, it’s funny.  I feel like when I was in school, I was probably more like Mike.  I mean, I was pretty focused on trying to get good grades, and, or, more like Squishy where I just didn’t really have a lot of friends. Which I didn’t even realize until someone asked that question, I realized, that sounds so sad.   But I didn’t have a lot of, like, wild, crazy college stuff going on. 

I saw plenty of it, but, I guess I feel like that’s what I connect with with the movie is more on an emotional level.  That feeling of showing up at an art school, and realizing that, though your mom puts your drawings on the refrigerator, you’re actually not the greatest artist in the world, is, it’s horrifying.  And it’s humbling, and I think that people have that experience a lot.

And that part of it, that, that idea of Mike being up against that was what I felt would be the heart of the story, and what I felt connected to me personally is, is, boy, what do we do when things don’t work out inevitably? It’s so wonderful that we tell people you can be anything you want if you never give up.  But sometimes it happens, and, and are we there for people to kind of help them go, no, maybe you’re not this, but you’re this.  And that’s what I love about this story.”

On how Pixar came up with the unique college marketing of Monsters University:

“The sort of college marketing?  That idea was really from one of our story artists.   She at one point just pitched this idea of, as a teaser just doing a college commercial.  And we thought it was such a great idea.  But at the time, thought, oh, I don’t think we can do that, or it would have cost too much money or something.  And, and the idea kind of went dormant for a while, but we brought it up again to John Lassiter.

And he loved that idea.  John’s always looking for a different way to do things.  And so he really, uh, just championed the idea of, we should do a college commercial, and then we should do, you know, a website.  We should treat it like it’s a real university.  And we all just got so excited about that. 

And John was really adamant about, and I don’t want there to be any links to the movie.  I want this to just seem real.  And don’t talk about when the movie comes out on there, and, and you know, that’s got a lot of people scared, like, whoa.  What are you talking about?  How will anyone know? 

It’s like, don’t worry about that.  That’ll come later.  For now, just make this real.  And I think it, it’s a big part of what John is always trying to do, which is make these worlds seem totally real.  But we had a blast doing all that stuff.”

On the three armed sweatshirts or six arm sweatshirts…..

“Even that, well.  It was meant to be a joke at first, the four armed sweatshirts, and they were always gonna be sold out.  And then at one point, John was, like,  add it.  We’re like  can we really make these?  And,  they’re like, all right!  We’ll make ‘em for real.  But again, it’s very John to, like, let’s just make ‘em.  People… Who knows?  Who cares if no one buys them?Be Real! 

So, it’s been great to see people wearing them.

Some of them might be a joke, but the four are real.  You can get them.

 I think it’s sort of something that dawns on you as you start going.  But, but it’s never the deciding idea.  I think it’s something that as we opened up our world, we realized, wow, you could really make this stuff.  People could be included in that.  And that’s what I love about the ads and all this, all the sweatshirts and stuff is people get to be kind of included in the world as if it were real. “

Note: Thanks to Disney for paying my travel expenses to attend this press event for Monsters University. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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