In Disney/Pixar’s 2001 animated feature MONSTERS INC., Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) works on his “I” problem, and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) saves the girl with compassion. Join us as we discuss these Christian themes and so much more on this episode of the Finding Christ in Cinema podcast.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction and Previous Episode Recap 
  • 00:04:45 – Movie Discussion
  • 00:15:54 – Christian Themes in MONSTERS, INC.
  • 00:27:57 – Listener Feedback
  • 00:48:02 – More Christian Themes in MONSTERS, INC.

Christian Themes in Monsters Inc.

In the hustle-and-bustle-bossa-nova city of Monstropolis, everything is powered by the screams of human children. Those screams are harvested by the hard-working, blue-collar employees of Monsters, Inc. James P. Sullivan and his friend Mike Wazowski are on their way to becoming a record-breaking team of professional scarers.

It’s not until a human child, believed to be fatally toxic, accidentally enters the world through a neglected door and sets everything off balance. Sulley and Mike take in toddler but not without going through a bit of change for themselves.

Through his relationship with Boo, Sulley realizes that he cannot be a good monster and love Boo at the same time, and this recognition is what leads him to give up everything he has to save Boo. Mike, then, being the loyal follower of his friend, helps Boo find the door and her way home.

Mike and Sulley’s Motivation

It’s easy to understand that Mike and Sulley are best friends. They live together, work together, and go through life together; this is their world at rest and their ordered system – their kosmos. These two chums function well together, too; they wouldn’t be the team that they are if they didn’t.

In fact, should someone ever ask them what, in their opinion, makes a good monster, they would both respond with similar answers. They both train ridiculously hard in order to be good at what they do, and the fruits of their labors are evident. Sulley (and Mike…kinda) has even been selected as the Monsters, Inc. Employee of the Month for several months in a row

Where Mike and Sulley differ, however, is in their motivation to be a good monster, and it’s this difference in motivation that gets tested in the film’s climax. On one hand, Mike only works to make himself look good. He unashamedly boasts about being on TV and on magazine covers. He wants the prettiest girl and the coolest stuff. To put it succinctly, he has an “I” problem.

This image from MONSTERS INC shows Mike and Celia.

On the other hand, Sulley works because he wants others’ lives to be easier. The motto of Monsters, Inc. is “We Scare Because We Care,” and Sulley is about the only employee there who genuinely embodies that sentiment. He looks out for others and is quick to help someone else (even Mike). He is a selfless and caring creature.

These differences, though, don’t have much impact while the world is at rest. As is the unfortunate case with most “friendships,” the relationship is good when living is easy. It isn’t until Boo enters the scene when these differences are exposed by a more truthful light.

Shake ‘Em Up, Boo!

When Boo enters this kosmos, Mike and Sulley have to decide how to handle the situation. To put it in formal storytelling terms, Boo entering is the crisis, and how Mike and Sulley respond to that crisis makes up the climax. (I’m really trying not to burden you all with technical jargon, but it’s helped me better understand stories, so maybe it can help you, too).

Mike’s response is as selfish as you can imagine.  Like the rest of Monstropolis, he freaks out in an animated fashion (heh). In this world, human children are fatally toxic. Mike, of course, does not want to die at the hands of a child; after all, he has his great life to protect and a future to safeguard. He wants the child thrown back into the human world.

Sulley’s response, however, shines a light on those aforementioned differences. While there is still the initial freak-out, Sulley discovers that little babies aren’t toxic. On the contrary, they can actually be quite fun. Sulley takes the child under his wing and even gives her the name Boo. He is adopting Boo, and, in a way, he is creating Boo anew.

Sulley’s Recognition

Even as divided as they are with Boo in their midst, Mike and Sulley remain friends. Mike doesn’t want anything to do with Boo, but he still hangs around for Sulley. Sulley doesn’t really care for Mike’s sour and selfish attitude, but Sulley still loves his friend. It isn’t until the stakes are at their highest when Mike and Sulley’s friendship is in jeopardy.

Something more crucial, though, happens before that. As Mike and Sulley discover Randall’s evil plot, they rush to tell Mr. Waternoose. Unfortunately, Mr. Waternoose thinks Sulley has arrived to show some inadequate new recruits how to scare a child properly. Little does Sulley know that he actually scares Boo during the shoehorned demonstration.

As Boo whimpers away in terror, Sulley tries to comfort her, but he can’t. Thus, in a very finely crafted example of Aristotelian recognition, Sulley realizes that he himself is his own problem. He wants to help Boo, but he can’t do that and be a “good monster” at the same. This is a personal crisis for Sulley, and his response determines the course of the rest of the film.

The Pearl of Great Price

Of course, only a moment after Sulley’s recognition is another secret revealed: Mr. Waternoose is in charge of the evil plot. The boss then banishes Mike and Sulley to the Himalayas with the Abominable Snowman. It’s here, in a life-or-death situation, that the difference between Mike Sulley come out.

This image from MONSTERS INC shows Sulley and Boo.

While Mike wants to get back to the way things were, Sulley believes that none of that matters now. The only thing that’s important to Sulley now is saving Boo. Mike takes personal offense to this newfound objective because he feels like he’s being pushed off to the side, but Sulley is determined to save Boo no matter what. Boo has thus become Sulley’s “pearl of great price.”

This causes a rift in the relationship. Mike, as selfish as he is on the outside, is actually codependent on Sulley for affirmation. Once Sulley makes his choice to place Boo over everything and everyone else, Mike at first shuns his friend. Thankfully, Mike soon realizes that his friendship with Sulley is more important than his pride, and he becomes willing to help Sulley save Boo.

Key Texts for Monsters, Inc.

Let these passages be your guide as you watch Monsters, Inc. with friends and loved ones.

John 10:9 (NASB)

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Matthew 13:45-46 (NASB)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a good way to use stories to soften peoples' hearts. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever.
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