Monsters Movies Offer Kids A Window Into AdulthoodSteven M. Johnson
For a lot of kids, the long block of time between the moments with their dads before school and the moments with them later in the day are a mystery. What happens when dad goes to work? What can he possibly be doing all day?
When Monster’s Inc. was first released, I was a kid. Seeing the movie made me think about adults and their careers in a way that hadn’t really occurred to me before. Most family movies tell stories of superheroes or fairy tale princesses, not something as ordinary as grown-ups (albeit monsters) going to work. In Monster’s Inc., we see adults in an environment of constant interaction, of cooperation and competition, of working together for a common goal: In this case, to power Monstropolis. We see the collaboration and range of different roles necessary to carry out this essential function, from the front-line scarers to the paperwork bureaucracy to the stockholders and Board of Directors.
In addition to illustrating what a day at work is like, this film can also spark discussion with your kids about the kind of work you and your company do. It carries undertones of corporate social responsibility, of your and your workplace’s obligation to conduct business in a responsible way. In Monsters, Inc., the monsters universe is powered by human children’s screams – a not-so-far-fetched metaphor of the exploitation that often takes place to obtain resources. Change is hard to come by when the current means of conducting business has been working so far. The switch from the more cruel resource, screams, to a more positive one, laughter, could parallel your own workplace experiences.
Much like Monsters, Inc. view of the workplace, Monsters University is one of the only movies about college that is kid-friendly. Before high school, I certainly didn’t have an idea of what college was like. Now, as a fresh college graduate, Monsters University struck me with how spot-on the film was in its depiction of university life; from checking into the dorms to rushing Greek houses to the high stakes of academic pressure.
Like with the various characters of the workplace in Monsters, Inc., no matter who you were in college, a ROR fraternity-type jock or a misfit like the Oozma Kappa brothers, there is some representation of who you were at that age in this film. Your kids’ vision of you is probably that you have always been the way you are now; they may not have seen you in moments of failure, struggling to get by. As an audience, it is surprising for us to see the characters Mike and Sulley start fresh and make a way for themselves because we are used to them as successful adults; your kids see you the same way.
The additional depth of character added with the university experience contributes to the very powerful and timely message of the film, that failure is in the eye of the beholder. There is more than one way to achieve your goals and get to where you want to be. Mike and Sulley experience setbacks throughout the film, but these don’t deter them from their goal of eventually becoming scarers for Monsters, Inc.
This theme may hit home for some of you dads. You may have had difficulties in your work life recently, particularly with the economic crisis; you may have had to take a pay cut, work shorter hours, or even lose your job. But however dire these circumstances may have been for you and your family, you don’t stop; you work with what you have and continue to work hard, by job hunting or starting fresh with a new company and working your way up. You do what you have to do to achieve your goal of supporting your family, just as Mike and Sulley do what they have to in order to achieve theirs.
Nothing can fully illuminate what your experience as a man and a father has been like, but the Monsters films provide a great perspective to your kids about the journey you have been on and the choices you have had to make. They give a glimpse into a world of adulthood that we don’t often get to see in family movies, and help bridge the gap between generations in understanding your experience.
Monsters University is now playing in theaters.