Monster’s Inc. is an absolute classic. Beloved by parents and children alike, it’s a heartwarming tale about an unexpected friendship between two people who were never supposed to meet that shows how quickly we can come to love each other. It’s also a triumph of world-building, creating a Monstropolis that feels every bit as rich and fully imagined as our own world. This robustness, of course, is not accident . It's the result of thousands of choices by writers and animators to make the city feel real. Some of these, like the monster’s usage of “odorant” instead of our own deodorant, are easily evident to anyone watching the movie. But today I wanted to draw attention to one that probably escaped most peoples’ notice, even though it's every bit as important as any other world-building touch.
Early on in the movie, we’re introduced to the scaring floor at Monster’s, Inc. in a scene that shows us a typical day of work for the monsters who produce scream energy there. At the start of this scene, the floor’s supervisor counts down the seconds until they can begin work. What’s interesting about this otherwise unimportant moment in the movie is that the supervisor begins his countdown with “We are live in seven…” At first hearing, this probably seems just a little bit odd. While we're used to countdowns beginning from five or ten, this is something we take so much for granted that we could easily just write Monsters. Inc.'s deviance from it off as a largely irrelevant quirk.
Looking at the image on-screen when this happens, though, reveals something absolutely wonderful. The countdown begins from seven not by random chance, but precisely because the monster counting down has seven fingers. This is more than just a hilarious little easter egg, though; it's a brilliant little bit of world-building. After all, we only start countdowns from five because we have five fingers, so why would we expect a seven-fingered monster to count down from any number but seven? In a world where monsters make the rules, every guideline that humans live by can be thrown out the window, replaced with a monstrous version of itself. That the writers and animators of Monster’s Inc. realized this and applied it to even our smallest customs speaks to their attention to detail and commitment to creating an independent world with its own internal logic.
Of course, it’s easy to question just how much a difference a touch this small actually makes. After all, the supervisor is on screen for just about a second while counting down, and the moment is confined to a single line. But when little moments like these are present all throughout the film, their collective power is undeniable. Tiny moments of delight like the one this touch gives us carry us seamlessly through the movie, making every single second a joy to watch while producing a robust universe in which the movie takes place. Monstropolis feels real, a self-contained world with its own rules and norms and life, and things like a seven-second countdown are a part of that. Just as the smallest things in our own world give it a sense of reality, the smallest touches in a film can give it a sense of life. They’re just a little harder to notice sometimes.
With excitement and optimism,