In this animated picture by Pixar, the audience discovers that the monsters on the other side of their closet doors are literally “in business” to scare them. We find out that the monsters depend on the screams of scared children to power their society. The corporation, “Monster’s Inc.” employs monsters as “scarers” to harness Scream. Scream is refined into “clean, dependable energy” according to a commercial for Monster’s Inc., that the two protagonists Sully and Mike watch at the beginning of the film. The tagline of the company is “we scare because we care.”
As the audience knows, scaring children is terrible sin and therefore they should view the actions of the monsters as wrong. However, the audience empathizes with the monsters since they seem to be living in a caring society. In addition, in the first scene the audience learns that the monsters are equally if not more scared of the children than the children are of the monsters.
For example, the CEO of Monsters Inc. Waternoose says to a group of scarer trainees in the first scene of the film: “There’s nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child, a single touch could kill you.” (The fear of children is so great that when a child’s sock sticks to a monster as he is working an emergency is declared and monsters in HAZMAT suits drop out of the sky to contain the incident.)
After Waternoose utters these words one of the monster trainees cries out in fear: “I won’t go in there, you can’t make me!” referring to a child’s closet door.
Waternoose replies: “You’re going in there because we need this…” Waternoose picks up a canister an opens its cap; a high-pitched scream comes out as he does this, which causes lights in the room and the television monitors to flicker. “Our city is counting on you to collect those children’s screams. Without Scream we have no power. Yes, it’s dangerous work and that’s why I need you to be at your best,” Waternoose says.
These monsters, like many workers in the various fuel source energy industries, have to deal with life threatening hazards each day of work.
The audience quickly learns that Monstropolis is undergoing an energy crisis because children are losing their innocence and are less likely to be scared by the monsters entering their bedrooms at night. For example, Sully convinces Mike to walk to work to preserve the Scream used to power Mike’s car.
One night, Sully discovers a little girl in the factory after work one night. She grabs him and he runs away in fear. She is enamored with his fur, calling him “Kitty”. Despite being touched by the girl, Sully does not show any signs of sickness, poisoning or spontaneous explosion, leading the audience to believe that children are not as toxic to monsters as originally thought. However, the girl, who is later named “Boo” by Mike and Sully, is seen in public and the monsters in Monstropolis panic. A Monstropolis news report interviews monsters who tell stories of Boo having the ability to move things with her mind and shoot lasers from her eyes. This news report illustrates the deep-seated the view is that children are dangerous even though this is not the case.
As the movie continues, Mike and especially Sully bond with Boo. As Boo becomes more comfortable with Mike and Sully she begins to have the occasional laugh, with explosive results. While, lights flicker with children’s screams, light bulbs will actually burst with their laughs. It is later stated that Laughter is ten times more powerful than Scream.
Mike and Sully also discover that Sully’s rival Randall intends to kidnap Boo to test Monster’s Inc’s new product, the Scream extractor, an even more brutal way to extract energy from children as it leaves them drained and terrified.
When Mike and Sully alert Waternoose to Randall’s intentions, Waternoose banishes them to the human world and kidnaps Boo, alerting the audience to Waternoose’s knowledge of not only Randall’s plan but that children are not dangerous to monsters. If monsters no longer fear that children will hurt them, Waternoose and Randall believe that they will object to scaring them on moral grounds and then Monster’s Inc. will no longer be able to produce and sell Scream.
Sully is able to save Boo from the Scream extractor and is able to trick Waternoose into confessing for the authorities that he will resort to kidnapping more children to continue producing Scream: “I’ll kidnap a thousand children before I let this company die!” The monsters in the hazmat suits, are revealed to be part of the Child Detection Agency (CDA). The CDA has been keeping tabs on Monster’s Inc. after becoming suspicious that members of the company were kidnapping children. The CDA arrest Waternoose.
The movie ends with the monsters now entering children’s bedrooms to make them laugh at night and Sully is shown to have some sort of high management position in the company. Of course, the movie has a Disney happy ending with Sully and Boo being reunited and able to visit each other upon occasion.
This movie functions as both a positive/utopian and negative energy narrative. Monster’s Inc is extracting energy while taking advantage of not only their labor force by making them work in a “dangerous” environment but by also taking advantage of the environment that is the source of energy, children. Monster’s Inc is also lying to their employees and the public by making them fear children in order to justify the otherwise morally repugnant tactic of scaring to produce energy. Since the children are dangerous, scaring them does not seem so bad. However, once the management of the company changes and the technological discovery of the power of laugh is made, Monster’s Inc. is able to produce clean, safe and ethically produced energy from children’s laughter. Causing children to laugh is obviously a much kinder way to extract the energy that the monsters need to survive. Sully and Mike have discovered an alternative and metaphorically, renewable energy source that does not result in the disadvantage or manipulation of any society or environment. The ending of Monster’s Inc. is utopian because it proposes the theory that with additional technological discoveries that a clean, safe and ethically produced energy source is capable of powering an entire society.