Monsters, Inc.

Inciting Event: In the locker room, Randall threatens Sully and Mike, telling them the “winds of change” are coming. They all then enter the Scarefloor, and the day’s work of collecting scream begins. As much as I love this movie, I do find the First Act a little weak, if only because it’s so exposition heavy (although it’s executed so charmingly, it’s almost forgivable).

The Inciting Event also isn’t particularly strong. We have an obvious turn in the plot when the scaring begins. But that, in itself, isn’t an Inciting Event, since it’s something that happens to the protagonists every single day. Randall’s bullying in the locker room also isn’t a new event. His portentous comment about “winds of change” is about the main conflict, but it’s so subtle that it makes no obvious impact on the protagonists.

However, the Randall scene does provide the story with the necessary tone and pacing—and it does introduce the viewers to the conflict, with Randall as the (seeming) primary antagonist. We’ve also got a nice instance of Mike rejecting the “Call to Adventure” when he refuses to engage with Randall and tells Sully, “One of these days, I am really going to let you teach that guy a lesson.”

First Plot Point: That night, Sully returns to the Scarefloor to take care of Mike’s paperwork and discovers Randall secretly working with a door. Before ejecting the door, Mike pokes his head inside to check if anyone is there—and unwittingly lets out the little girl Boo.

I love this First Plot Point. Not only is it charmingly hilarious, it’s also a super example of a “flip” Normal World: the protagonist doesn’t leave his Normal World; rather, a stranger enters the Normal World and forever changes it.

First Pinch Point: Sully and Mike disguise Boo as Sully’s “cousin’s sister’s daughter” and take her to the factory in an effort to return her home. However, they discover the factory is crawling with CDA officials, searching for the child and whoever was responsible for letting her in. Although this scene is the clear turning point in the First Half of the Second Act, we’ve also got a nice little pinch with Randall, a few scenes later, in which he and Fungus discuss their predicament and Randall warns that whenever he finds who’s responsible, “they are dead!”

Midpoint: Boo escapes and Sully mistakenly believes she’s being pulverized in a trash compacter. This is Sully’s Moment of Truth. Although his affection for Boo has been growing throughout the Second Act, this is where he becomes fully aligned with loving her and taking care of her. Up to this point, he’s been intent on salvaging his career; now, he’s intent on protecting her above all else.

Meanwhile, Mike is cornered by Randall—who’s figured out Mike knows where Boo is. Randall makes him a deal, telling him that if he’ll return Boo during the lunch break, everything will be fine.

Second Pinch Point: Sully is suspicious of the deal, since Randall was the one who instigated it. He refuses to let Boo go through the door, so Mike goes instead, to prove everything is on “the up and up.” Mike is kidnapped—and Sully follows him to Randall’s secret lair under the factory where Randall uses his Scream Extractor to try to torture Mike into giving up Boo. This is a very nice pinch point: it dramatically emphasizes the antagonist’s threat, as well as introducing important new clues.

Third Plot Point: While trying to explain the truth to the company president Mr. Waternoose, Sully accidentally scares Boo. Mr. Waternoose turns out to be in on the plot with Randall—and he takes Boo away and banishes Sully and Mike to the Himalayas in the human world.

This is a great Third Plot Point. What could be worse for these characters? Their careers are down the drain, Mike has lost his lady-love Celia, they’ve been sent to a frozen wasteland for the rest of their lives—and Sully has made this precious little girl, whom he has come to love, think he truly is a monster. Even worse, he’s left her defenseless in the hands of the true monsters! It’s delicious. Third Plot Points don’t get better than this (and they didn’t even have to kill anyone to make it work!).

Climax: After finding a way back to the monster world and snatching Boo from the Scream Extractor, Sully and Mike chase Boo’s door through the labyrinthine interior of the factory—where all the millions of doors are kept. Again: love it. This is an entirely unique action sequence (both generally and within the story) that’s very well contained. It neatly funnels the confrontations down from the henchman Randall to the head antagonist Mr. Waternoose.

Climactic Moment: After unmasking Mr. Waternoose to the CDA, Sully finally takes Boo back to her room and tucks her into her bed. Note, that even though all the exciting and dangerous conflict ended with Mr. Waternoose’s arrest, that is not the Climactic Moment. Why? Because it doesn’t end the main conflict—which has always been about getting Boo home.

Resolution: Sully and Mike take over the company and end the energy crisis using laughter, which they had discovered was a hundred times more powerful than scream. Mike reveals that he’s reconstructed Boo’s shredded door, allowing Sully to see her again. This is possibly my favorite closing scene of all time. Not only does it magnificently sum up the movie’s overall tone and theme, it’s also a beautiful example of an ending that ties off all the loose ends while still hinting at new beginnings as the characters’ lives keep right on rolling after the credits.

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