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Why For: The "Monsters, Inc." that might have been

Why For: The "Monsters, Inc." that might have been

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C.D.A. G.U.Y. just sent me a Why For question earlier this week that asked about some Pixar concept art that he'd seen back in January.

Jim,

I got to see that "Pixar: 25 Years of Animation" exhibit just before it left the Oakland Museum of California earlier this year. And in the "Monsters, Inc." section of this exhibit, I noticed that was a lot of concept art that seemed to be about television broadcasting.


Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

I know that there's that simulator / training room sequence in this Pete Docter movie with all of those TV monitors. But this stuff looked different. Almost as if Monsters, Inc. wasn't set in a factory anymore but at a television network instead.

Was this concept art from an earlier, abandoned version of "Monsters, Inc."? Or maybe for a subplot that got cut out of the final film? What do you know all of this TV studio stuff that I saw?

Dear C.D.A. G.U.Y.

You got in one. That "Monsters, Inc." concept art that you were looking at was from a very, very early version of this movie. The one that Pete Docter and his development team had in the works on back in October of 1996.


Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Mind you, the proposed opening sequence (for what was then known as just "Monsters," rather than as "Monsters, Inc.") was somewhat similar to what we all saw in the finished film. It was supposed to go something like this:

Picture ... A boy wearing one sock asks his mother where his other sock is. She tells him to check the laundry pile down in the basement.

We then see that missing sock lies, as bait, in front of this pile of laundry. From deep within the pile, red eyes glow and a low growl is heard.


"Monsters, Inc." maquettes. Photo by Rod Mongenel. Copyright Disney Pixar.
All rights reserved

We now watch as that boy nervously creeps down the basement stairs and is then frightened out of his mind as this giant hairy monster leaps out from the laundry pile with a mighty roar.

That's a pretty great opening sequence, don't you think? So where "Monsters" go to from there? Not to the Scare Floor at Monsters, Inc. But - rather - to a late 1940s / early 1950s-era 1950s television studio. Which is located inside of this theater in downtown Monstropolis.

As the camera turns, revealing an audience full of hideous creatures applauding wildly, we then realize that this sock-in-the-basement scare was just part of this wildly popular, live TV broadcast. Which is presented nightly in the Monster realm to entertain all of the guys & ghouls at home.


Image courtesy of Chronicle Books. Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

And who's the giant hairy star of this live TV show? A monster named Barrymore. Who - just as Sid Caesar did at the end of "Your Show of Shows" and/or as Milton Berle did as "Texaco Star Theater" wrapped up its weekly broadcast - stands in front of the curtain, acknowledging the audience's cries of "Bravo!" and "Encore!," bowing graciously.

But when the applause ends and Barrymore steps backstage, out of view of his adoring fans, this scare-actor is anything but gracious. As Barrymore heads back to his trailer, removing his make-up and shedding his costume, he belittles the show's crew. Complaining loudly about all of that night's missed  sound effects and lighting cues.

As this TV broadcast's director, J.L. (As in "John Lasseter." Get it?) runs along at Barrymore's elbow, trying to placate this rather pompous performer (who - according to Pete Docter's October 1996 treatment for "Monsters" - was supposed to have been modeled on Orson Welles during the latter part of his career), this obviously egotistical scare-actor doesn't take any comfort from hearing how great that night's ratings were. How many monsters were tuning in at home. Barrymore continues to berate J.L. and the rest of the backstage crew, letting them all know how completely unprofessional they are. How the only things holding this show together is Barrymore and his enormous talent.


Please note marquee to far left. Which reads "Barrymore in Mary's Room."
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

And given how the backstage crew all quietly roll their eyes as they strike the show's set (which is basically this giant mechanical screen. Which then allows the monsters who are running this live nightly TV broadcast to dial up any location in the human world) ... Well, this is clearly a rant that they've heard hundreds of times before. Which they reluctantly put up with because - after all - Barrymore IS the star of this show. More importantly, because these creatures like being part of the team which produces one of the more popular television programs that's shown in the Monster realm.

Now where this gets interesting is - while Barrymore is the star of the live TV show that serves as the principal setting / provides the spine for the story in "Monsters" - he isn't actually the lead character in this proposed Pixar production. Hob is.

"And who is Hob?," you ask. Well, Hob is the newest hire on the backstage crew for this Monstropolis TV show. As he goes on & on about how great Barrymore was that night, reenacting key moments from this scare-actor's performance, it's clear that Hob is a little star-struck. More to the point, that he secretly dreams of someday being the monster in the spotlight. Entertaining creatures all over the Monster realm as he scares little kids and then stars in a show just like this one.


Image courtesy of Chronicle Books. Copyright
Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

But in order for that to happen, Hob would first need a big break. Which comes far sooner than expected when the next night's broadcast goes disastrously wrong.

You see, Barrymore is slated to scare a brand-new human child, Raymond. Who's this 8-year-old boy that's always been fascinated with monsters. Which is why -- when this acclaimed scare-actor enters Raymond's bedroom and roars - the little boy doesn't scream and shriek. Raymond just stares up in wonder.

And as it turns out, it's Barrymore who winds up shrieking when Hob accidentally closes the closet door on this scare-actor's tail. Which then causes Barrymore to lose his place in the scene, so the scare-actor exits prematurely without having actually scared Raymond.


Image courtesy of Chronicle Books. Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

This - as you might expect - doesn't not go over all that well with the audience in the theater. They boo when Barrymore tries to take his curtain call. What's more, the ratings for that night's broadcast are abysmal. As viewers all over the Monster realm quickly turned off the program when it became obvious that Barrymore wasn't going to be able to frighten this boy.

And when the trades the next morning are full of headlines like "Has Barrymore Lost It?," this scare-actor locks himself in his trailer and then refuses to come out. According to what he shouts at J.L. through the door, it was the crew's fault that he wasn't able to frighten Raymond. Their unprofessionalism is what threw him off

And since Barrymore is now refusing to come out of his trailer and take part in that night's broadcast, J.L. is panicking. After all, when viewers all over Monstropolis tune in that evening, they're going to expect to see Barrymore. Or - at the very least - a monster that looks & sounds like Barrymore.


Color thumbnail sketches for "Monsters, Inc." Photo by Rod Mongenel.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

That's when J.L. looks on the ground and notices a shadow that looks just like Barrymore. But when the director seeks out the source of this silhouette, J.L. discovers that it's just Hob. Who - as he stands in front of a spotlight changing a bulb - with the help of a hat rack & a few nearby props, Hob looks just like Barrymore. Sort of.

Which is when J.L. has an idea. He drags Hob into the make-up trailer. Where - after Lucy (the show's make-up girl) spray Hob's hair green and then glues some horns on his head & a tail to his skinny butt - the new hire stagehand does actually look like Barrymore. Which is when J.L. rushes Hob to the set and then begins rehearsing him for that night's scare broadcast.

Meanwhile - in the human world - Raymond tries to tell his parents about the monster that came into his bedroom last night. Holding Raymond's new baby brother, Mom glances knowingly at Dad. Clearly they think that Raymond's crazy story is just a bid to get their attention.


More "Monsters, Inc." maquettes. Photo by Rod Mongenel.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Which is why - after his parents brush him off - Raymond decides to take matters into his own hands.  So - as he climbs into bed that night - this 8 year-old boy hides a flashlight and a baseball bat under the covers.

What with Hob under-rehearsed and Raymond prepared for battle ... Is it any wonder that that night's broadcast goes worse than the one before? I mean, Hob is so unsure of his lines that he actually walks into Raymond's bedroom carrying the script for that night's show with him. And when this 8-year-old boy shines his flashlight in Hob's eyes, the would-be scare-actor immediately becomes blinded. And as he stumbles along all over Raymond's bedroom, crashing into the furniture as Hob tries to avoid that baseball bat that the liitle boy keeps poking the monster with, he then drops his script before Hob quickly exits the bedroom.

As you'd expect, the monster audience in the theater just hates what they saw onstage. They actually pelt Hob with fruit when he tries to take a bow during his curtain call. Embarrassed and ashamed, this monster is further humiliated when J.L. comes up to him with the ratings for that night's show. Which are the worst that this program has ever received. J.L. even got a call in the control room from an executive at the Monstropolis television network. Who suggested that - unless this program starts improving and fast - the network may wind up cancelling this show.


Color tests for Sulley's fur. Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Sensing how badly the new hire stagehand feels about blowing his big break, J.L. tries to let Hob down easy. "Hey, at least you tried, kid," the director says. "But some of us just aren't cut out to be scare-actors."

As J.L. and the rest of the stage crew wander away, Hob sits alone backstage. His dreams crushed. He wonders aloud "Could this night get any worse?"

Actually, it could. You see, it's that this point in the story that this monster realizes that he left the script to that night's show behind when Hob exited Raymond's bedroom. Which is when this monster decides to sneak back into the human world so that he can then reclaim this script.


Concept sketch for Sulley and an 8-year-old version of Boo.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

But when Hob returns Raymond's bedroom, he discovers that 8-year-old boy sitting up in bed reading the script via flashlight. The monster initially tries to frighten the boy into dropping those pages. But without the TV program's sound effects and lighting, Hob is even less frightening than before. And to make matters worse, Raymond tells Hob that the script he was working off of wasn't really all that scary.

"Oh, I suppose you could do better," the monster snorts. And - to Hob's surprise - Raymond does. Right off the top of his head, this 8-year-old boy comes up with several suggestions that would have punched up that script. More to the point, would have radically improved that night's broadcast.

Impressed by what this boy came up with, Hob comes clean to Raymond. Explaining the whole monsters-scare-kids-because-that's-how-we-entertain-ourselves-back-in-the-Monster-realm concept. More to the point, Hob lets Raymond know that the live TV show that he and his friends work on is in real danger of being cancelled unless it starts serving up far more entertaining scares on a nightly basis.


Another early version of Sulley was showcased on the "Pixar: 25 Years of Animation"
exhibition sign. Photo by Rod Mongenel. Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

That's when Hob & Raymond strike a bargain. The boy will now work with the monster to help make his nightly scare broadcast seem that much more entertaining IF Hob then hangs out with Raymond on a regular basis and teaches him about what goes on in Monstropolis.

Mind you, this is only Act One of the 1996 version of "Monsters." Act Two deals with what happens when Barrymore is booted off the program because Hob - with Raymond's help - is pulling in much higher ratings. Which is why the scare-actor - in authentic Orson Welles-like Shakespearean tones - vows revenge on the former stagehand.

Whereas Act Three dealt with what happened when Barrymore exposed Hob. Revealed that this now white-hot Monstropolis TV star had been collaborating with a human. There is, of course, a huge scandal. And given that Raymond now knows all sorts of secrets of the Monster realm ... Well, there's some earnest discussion about whether this 8-year-old boy can be allowed to live.


Concept painting of Downtown Monstropolis.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Which - I know - sounds kind of grim. But accoding to the story that Pete D. & Co. mapped out, Hob ultimately stands up for his human friend. Which is why Raymond is then allowed to live. What's more, because Hob is banished from the Monster realm and forced to find work elsewhere ... Well, it turns out that the monster and the 8-year-old boy will still get to see one another. Since Hob gets hired by the Tooth Fairy.

So, okay. That's what Pete Docter's early, early version of "Monsters" would have been like. Now you have to admit that this proposed Pixar production had some interesting ideas and concepts. But - then again - there was just a lot of stuff here that was flat-out unworkable.

But given the story process at Pixar (i.e. that they try and make as many mistakes as possible early on. Which is when story problems are easiest to fix), Docter & Co. kept refining & refining their concept for "Monsters." Finding all sorts of way to make this story, these characters and their world that much more appealing & accessible to audiences.


Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

And the finished version of this film - I'd have to say - is one of my absolute favorite Pixar films. Whenever "Monsters, Inc." is on, I inevitably find myself being sucked into this movie yet again. Marveling at all the humor and the heart.

Speaking of which ... If you haven't seen "Monsters, Inc." in a while, this Peter Docter movie is actually having its world premiere on ABC Family this Sunday evening. This Academy Award-nominee will be screened twice on that cable channel that night. Once at 8 p.m. ET / PT and then again at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Which means that you can then double-up on the fun of watching Sulley, Boo and Mike battle and then defeat Randall Boggs.

FYI: Given that I've such a huge fan of this particular Pixar film, I've actually collected a number of treatments for "Monsters, Inc." over the past 10 years. Some of which suggest that Pete Docter & Co. were considering taking this project in some very interesting directions.


Image courtesy of Chronicle Books. Copyright Disney Pixar. All right reserved

If you'd like to see some additional JHM articles about those other proposed versions of "Monsters, Inc."  ... Well, please let me know by posting a comment here. And I'll then see if I can go dig those treatments out of my piles ... er, files in the basement.

Your thoughts?

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  • Sounds a lot like Ratatouille!

  • I'd love to hear more about earlier versions of Monster's Inc! This was extrememly interesting and I really enjoyed reading it!!!

  • yes, more treatments please

  • Yes, please!  (C'mon Jim, did you really think you had to ask??) And more Why For, to boot!

  • Yes Please

  • Yes, please Jim!

    Thanks in advance!

  • I'd love to read more on earlier versions of Monsters, Inc. This article alone was extremely enjoyable

  • Yes please!!! Monsters Inc is my favourite film EVER - no joke!

  • I would also love to hear more about earlier versions of Monster's Inc. Along with any other treatments you might have about any other Pixar films. I am fascinated by their development process.

  • Awesome!  Thank you so much for this insightful goodness!

  • YES. MONSTERS. LOVE. MONSTER LOVE. TREATMENTS!!!!!

  • Thank you, sir...may I have another.

  • Monsters Inc is my favorite Pixar movie! So interesting how far the movie came from this early concept. Would love to read about the other ideas. Post more!

  • Please post more Monsters Inc treatments! It's my 3rd favorite Pixar film, and Pete Docter is my favorite member of the Brain Trust.

  • "Monsters, Inc." is actually my least favorite Pixar film by far. But I found this article fascinating, nonetheless, and I would definitely like to know of other treatments.

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