For years now, audiences have mistaken the real message behind the beloved Monsters, Inc. When most viewers think of Sully (John Goodman), Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), and Boo (Mary Gibbs) they see a straightforward buddy co-worker adventure about found family and the power of a child’s laugh. Most people are missing out on the bigger picture. The adventures of the former top scarer and future top comedian aren’t just fun and games: the real story of Monsters Inc. is about taking down a corrupt oligarchy in Monstropolis and how friendship can help dismantle a monopoly.
Capitalist Corruption at the Heart of ‘Monsters, Inc.’
That’s right, this beloved children’s film isn’t just a story about ‘making kids laugh is better than making them cry.’ Rather, it’s a story about deep, political corruption and how two unlikely heroes helped save their community. The context around the issue was made clear from the jump, but may have been easily overlooked considering how idyllic it seemed. Monsters Inc. was the sole energy provider for every resource in an entire metropolis: “We power your car, warm your house, light up your city.” The commercial we hear is a statement of importance, but also a declaration of complete control. Imagine your electricity provider, gas company, and even the gas stations you refuel your cars were all owned by the same family and powered by the same resource. It’s a monopoly of unchecked proportions. The city is entirely dependent on this singular company and, without it, nothing would be able to run.
Corruption runs deep in this monopoly, headed by the infamous Henry J. Waternoose. Even though he was already dressed like an evil oil tycoon, Waternoose was a monster not because of his many eyes and legs, but because of the sheer greed that he had involving controlling the city. He was a nepo baby, appointed as CEO because of his family’s legacy in running the company and the city. For at least three generations his family has been in charge of powering the entire infrastructure of Monstropolis, without other competition in the market and without a care about the sustainability and ethics of their resource acquisition. The nepotism within the organization reinforces how much power is consolidated by the select few. Because the entire city would be unable to function without scream power, Waternoose has essentially made himself the head of an oligarchy as he sits on top of the most important resource for monsterkind.
The foolhardy selfishness of the Waternoose family that brought them power was ultimately the same emotion that brought them utter failure. Children were getting harder and harder to scare; thanks to TV and media in the human world, they were becoming desensitize to violence and were becoming less bountiful in their energy production. So what does Waternoose do when he’s faced with a resource shortage? He throws ethics out the window and risks the entire city with a plan to kidnap children for extensive scream extraction. He even goes so far as to threaten to silence anyone who tries to stop him, with an apparent willingness to descend to violence.
The morality of using children’s screams were dubious from the start, but since this was a world of monsters, audiences were more likely to give that one a pass. However, everyone at the time believed that humans posed a serious threat to monsters. There was genuine fear that they could spread sickness, fire laser beams out of their eyes, or wreak havoc in a number of other exaggerated ways. Even though we understand this to be false, the population of Monstropolis truly believed otherwise. And Waternoose was willing to risk all of their lives to continue holding onto that power and keeping his company running.
Mike and Sully Bust the CDA’s Monopoly
Thanks to the support of the Child Detection Agency (CDA), Mike and Sully were able to bust the monopoly better than a sore loser flipping a table on board game night. As the oligarch was dragged away, he accused Sully of exacerbating the energy crisis, placing the “inevitable” destruction of Monstropolis on his shoulders. There could have been some truth to his Waternoose’s words. He had made the city so utterly dependent on scream that, without his company, there would be no power and hundreds of people were set to lose their jobs. There was nothing the two could do because if they chose to stop scaring kids, they would lose their livelihoods. But to continue living their normal lives, they would have to keep scaring and, ultimately, harming hundreds of children. Mike and Sully weren’t heroes, they did more bad than good…
Fortunately, Waternoose was as misguided in this statement as he was in his values. Mike and Sully didn’t just do something good, they discovered something exponentially better. They made sure that when Sully had to say bye to Boo, those would be some of the last tears shed inside of Monsters Inc.. Mike’s latent talent for comedy proved much more effective for energy management, as they were able to discover that laughter was 10 times more powerful than screams, and irreplaceably more ethical. Replace your scarers with comedians, replace your oil with electric; the two had found an energy source that was more abundant yet caused less damage to its environment. The two unintentional environmentalists helped shift the economy’s main source of revenue into a product that did not harm its producers. The conflict and resolution of this more serious topic
We don’t see too much of Monstropolis after they switched to laugh power, but if the glimpse into Monsters Inc. was any indication, it likely became a place with more glee and enjoyment for everyone. Children wouldn’t have to be scared, but the monsters of Monstropolis could still power their cars, warm their homes, and light up their city. Monsters Inc. was an incredible story of family and friendship, but the overarching conflict and resolution serve as wonderful allegories about the dangers of oligarchies and the benefits of laughter.