Best pals Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan returned to theaters today in Monsters University. It doesn’t take a degree in Scaring to know that Mike and Sulley eventually become hard-working employees at Monsters, Inc., not to mention best friends. But the road to careers and teamwork wasn’t always clear-cut for these two. That’s the terrain that filmmakers sought to explore in Monsters University.
“You may know where they’re going to end up, but you don’t know how they got there. So it’s the journey that really matters, an idea that ultimately underscores the whole movie,” describes story supervisor Kelsey Mann.
Monsters University director Dan Scanlon goes on to explain, “The whole filmmaking process mirrors the path our characters take in this movie. It’s not a straight line from beginning to end—but one filled with dips and peaks, left turns and a lot of rerouting.”
But in the beginning, there is Mike. Self-proclaimed “little guy,” Mike Wazowski has dreams to become a top Scarer despite his comparatively less-than-ominous stature.
To take him back in time, Pixar artists studied the look of frogs as they age for inspiration when creating a young Mike Wazowski. Mike is also leaner, has shorter horns, a little extra brightness in his eyes, but the visual hook has to be the retainer.
Though his ultimate goal is to be the best scarer MU has ever produced, Mike learns he’s a natural at bringing out the best in his peers. “Mike is really good at lifting others up. In his quest for this unattainable dream, he becomes a great coach, making Sulley a hundred times better than he is on his own. They’re really a team and we get to see how that happens,” describes Monsters University producer Kori Rae.
A slightly leaner, slightly less humble Sulley was created for Monsters University. Artists gave Sulley an unruly mane of teenage hair and thinner frame to achieve a more youthful look. Despite these small design changes, Sulley will always be the “big guy,” a detail that plays into Sulley’s personality. “He looks the part and he knows is. He shows off a little and he might be a little arrogant,” Scanlon describes.
Billy Crystal and John Goodman returned to lend their voices to Mike and Sulley–voices that now needed to sound like college-aged monsters. Finding slightly more youthful voices for Mike and Sulley wasn’t as hard as one might think. Goodman explains “It just happened–through a couple of passes, it just kinda happens organically. You pick up on other energies and the characters’ focuses, and it just happens. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.”
On returning to voice Mike, Crystal says, “I love this guy to play, and playing it with John is phenomenal because we work together in the studio, and we can act together… We’re not just reading lines; we’re performing them, and we’re playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why their relationship on screen is really great because it’s a real thing.”
As different as Mike and Sulley are in look, temperament, and skill set as they enter Monsters University, the trials of college life lead both to self-discovery and a much stronger appreciation for others that we see in Monsters, Inc.
Though Monsters University starts out as independent tales of two very different monsters, by the end, they are the team that audiences now know and love. Goodman says it best: “I think Sulley really, really needs Mike Wazowski. It makes him complete… lets the air out of him a little bit. Especially in this film, when they’re not completely formed monsters yet, they learn from each other. They learn how to adapt, how to let go of their pre-conceived notions of themselves and of the world. They’re good for each other.