A friend of mine made an interesting remark in class the other day. We were comparing the movies that come out of Dreamworks Animation like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda with Pixar’s fair, and she said the real difference between the two is how much work Pixar puts into the universe their characters reside in. So, for example, in Kung Fu Panda the world is populated by a menagerie of talking animals, but the scenery is a human’s ancient China, with roughly human sized houses and human sized doorways and human sized object meant to be used by human hands. Now compare this, she said, to the world where Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. live. A world where objects are obviously designed for the “people” that use them, right down to the salt shakers.
Now it’s not that these details do anything to directly effect these movies. Although a great deal of forethought went into the Monster’s Inc. salt shakers, the movies makes no effort to draw attention to it. And at the same time, the discontinuity between a human ancient China and a population of animals is no more far fetched than having the animals speak (English or Chinese), wear clothes, or learn martial arts. It’s all a part of our willing suspension of disbelief. Both films are fantastic.
The point is simply that by including details like that salt shaker---even if they’re never addressed by the characters or the plot---you the viewer subconsciously get the feeling that there is a history there. Some company exists somewhere in the monster city, and in it a monster designer who made a number of mockup salt shaker designs for different monster hand types. Her monster boss took them to a monster mall where there was a monster focus group to find the most marketable design for that target 18-24 monster age group. A design was selected, and forged, packaged, and shipped by monsters to a monster restaurant supply house where the monster proprietor of the monster cafe bought a dozen of them (monster). It’s the little details like this that make Pixar movies that much richer.
An interesting point, I thought.