Were There Self-Aware Toys in ‘Monsters Inc,’ All Along?

toy story monsters inc theory

Since the release of my new book, The Pixar Theory, I honestly haven’t given much thought to expanding these Pixar-related connections because…vacation.

So, I’m back and here’s something potentially interesting for you to seek your teeth into. A few weeks ago, a regular visitor to the site (cheers, @ThomastheBrainEngine), brought me some interesting evidence of toys being “self-aware” in Monsters Inc, a la Toy Story.

In Toy Story, we learn that toys are sentient. They move around on their own when we’re not watching, and their entire lives revolve around the children who love them.

One of the main tenets of my theory, which tries to unite the Pixar movies, is that toys are alive because in the Pixar universe, human imagination is like a battery, and it gives life to ordinary things (maybe even cars).

toy story monsters inc theory

I argue that this is the same concept as monsters powering their society with the energy of children in Monsters Inc. But despite a few cameos (like Jessie and the Luxo ball), there’s nothing tangible linking Toy Story and Monsters Inc, especially if you consider Jessie’s appearance in Monsters Inc., to only be an easter egg, not a hint to something more.

But ThomastheBrainEngine presented a fascinating thought that I had not yet considered: what if we do see evidence that the world of Monsters Inc. has sentient toys? 

So I looked into this, and the evidence is solid, believe it or not. And it all hinges on the movie’s first scene.

Mr. Bile, can you tell me what you did wrong?

toy story monsters inc theory

This opening sequence introduces us to the basic mechanics of how monsters scare children. The monster, Mr. Bile (Phlegm), sneaks into a child’s room and attempts to scare him, but the kid wakes up and sees him. We see that Mr. Bile is actually more scared of the child than vice versa, and he trips and falls for comedic effect.

This, of course, is a simulation. A demonstration of how not to scare a child, so that the movie can cut to Sulley, our main character, who is the best scarer at Monsters Incorporated. The simulation we just watched was at the factory, and it’s our set up for everything that happens next in the movie (notably, that the worst thing you can do is let in a child by leaving the door open).

toy story monsters inc theory

Something that has bugged a lot of people, including myself, is a major goof (or series of goofs) that transpires during the simulation. When Mr. Bile walks in, we get a clear shot of the room’s layout and where everything is located. The soccer ball is under the bed, the toy train and its tracks are at the foot of the bed, and one of the books near the window hangs over the edge.

But as the scene changes, everything moves around. The soccer ball inexplicably moves to the side of the bed. It’s in a totally different location, and it eventually shows up again at the foot of the bed, where the train tracks have disappeared. Instead, there’s a bunch of jax in its place. Mr. Bile steps back on the soccer ball and falls on the jax (see above) like we’re watching a better version of Home Alone 3. We even see that the books on the toy box have moved a little bit, but they return to their original spot toward the end of the scene.

toy story monsters inc theory
The soccer ball is now under the bed again.

It’s nitpicking, but I’ve always been annoyed by how overtly obvious these goofs are. I’ve sat through a dailies session at Pixar, where the director and a group of animators will scrutinize every single aspect of what’s on the screen. Even for a movie that was made in Pixar’s early days, it’s strange to think that they could make so many continuity errors in just a couple of minutes, and the movie’s first few minutes at that.

Granted, these goofs happen all the time, and some are caught too late in the game to be considered worth the effort of fixing them. But they’re usually separated and scarce, not gathered in a cluster.

So, what if this entire scene wasn’t a goof at all? What if we were meant to see them? They’re certainly hard to miss, after all.

monsters inc toy story theory

The idea is that the toys moved on their own because the rules of Toy Story bleed into Monsters Inc. Part of any good simulation would be to make sure monsters are prepared for anything that could happen. If toys are able to come alive and possibly protect their sleeping owner from an invader, then it makes perfect sense for these simulations to include these variables.

Without those toys interfering, Mr. Bile probably would have been able to successfully leave the room and escape before the child could get up and go through that door. So part of the simulation could be to move the toys around, like they would in a real situation, in a way that conspires against the monster pulling off a scare. In this case, that meant moving the ball to where he would fall on a bunch of conveniently placed jacks that weren’t there in the first place.

It’s definitely possible, at least. The monsters controlling the simulation are creating atmospheric effects (the curtain moving like wind is blowing it, the child moving around in reaction to realtime events). If toys could move, too, then the monsters could simulate that experience.

monsters inc toy story theory

Would toys really do this, though?

I don’t think it’s a stretch based on what we’ve seen in Toy Story. Woody breaks the rules and unites Sid’s toys against him just to get back to Andy. He goes to incredible lengths to make Andy happy, so I’m pretty sure he’d also go pretty far to protect Andy from a terrifying monster.

It might not happen every time with every kid who has toys, but it could happen enough to warrant a response from Monsters Inc. When you watch Monsters University, you see that the higher ups are teaching the monsters tons of useful tips and facts about this profession, ranging from how the doors work to how monsters can adapt to any given situation.

monsters inc toy story theory

They have to prepare the monsters to be so stealthy, not even the toys know they’re there (which is possible, since we see that the toys do sleep when Woody has that nightmare in the first movie).

This also solves another major inconsistency that was brought on by Monsters University. If monsters have to go to college to get jobs as professional scarers, then why is Mr. Bile having such a hard time? And why is he doing this, anyway, if he has experience and a college education?

Well, if you watch Monsters University again, you probably won’t notice any of these instances of toys getting in the way. And that’s probably because introducing them as a variable is when you get into the expert mode of scaring. This would make scaring so hard for monsters that it wouldn’t be a critical point of the simulator until you actually got the job, explaining why Mr. Bile is sort of talented, but he ends up falling on his face, despite the rigorous standards of professional scaring established by Dean Hardscrabble in MU.

monsters inc toy story theory
Weirdly, Phlegm was good enough to hide this with a sweater.

To sum up, I think this evidence is pretty strong, mostly because those goofs I pointed out just seem overwhelmingly obvious. It is possible that the monsters controlling the simulation could be moving the toys around from the control room just to make things harder for Mr. Bile, not because toys are expected to come alive. But that just seems sort of harsh.

Mr. Bile walked into that room and surveyed everything as he was trained. Mixing things up for no good reason in a scenario that wouldn’t possible happen just to make things harder undermines how the monsters are trained in Monsters University. It’s like testing high school students on a different subject with information you never taught them—OK, wait, that happens all the time.

Let me know if you’re convinced or unconvinced and we can hash it out in the comments. If you’re interested in the Pixar Theory (that is, how all the movies may be connected and why) enough to read an entire book about it with all of the clues and arguments I’ve collected over the past few years, don’t forget to check out my book, which is available now in print and as an e-book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

47 thoughts on “Were There Self-Aware Toys in ‘Monsters Inc,’ All Along?

  1. Very interesting, but what other things can be a connection? Like from shorts to deleted scenes to new storys in video games to books and there could be an answer to all of those outtakes at the end of some movies.

    • Why does Boo have a Jessie doll if she is so rare.

      • Just because she is rare doesn’t mean that Boo cannot have one..Boo could have been one of the many few who actually owns a Jessie dall

    • No, not automatically. But if a monster is breaking into a child’s room in the middle of the night, you better believe the toys will do something about it. At least the brave ones, anyway.

      • Possibly, but if the toys are asleep, how will they know when there’s a monster?

        • They would get woken up by whatever noises the monsters would have made (Opening/closing the door, growling, if they do so, etc)

      • If you look at the picture by Boo behind Mike fom monsters inc., it looks like the robot from the big fight scene in The Incredibles. You know, the robot that Sinestro built to destroy Mr. Incredible and his family.

    • I think it has to do more with the toys being dependent on humans and their loving. After all Woody loves Andy and wouldn’t let anyone harm him.

  2. WOW haha, I guess I never really thought about the Pixar connection between Monsters Inc. and Toy Story before.

  3. Whoa! I always knew that Toy Story and Monsters Inc. were in the same universe and all that, but I never realized that if the toys were alive, then they’d (obviously, I guess) protect the child.
    You argue a great case, Jon. I’ll never look at either movies the same way ever again.

  4. There’s a more obvious explanation for why Mr. Vile is being subjected to basic training onsite despite the existence of Monsters University. With the scream shortage, more scarers are needed and the educational prerequisites need to be relaxed.

    • That’s exactly what I thought

  5. Cool theory. The toys are actual enemies the monsters have to face in the “Scary Island” videogame.

    • Yes! I remember that! @Jon Negroni, check out this link and notice how sulley has to fight living, moving, defensive toys:

  6. So correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like the toys are still protecting their kid even if the kid isn’t real, and it’s all a simulation. Are you saying that the monsters are controlling that aspect as well, or that the toys are real? Because if the toys are actually protecting the fake child as if it were a real one, maybe this is a sign of a kind of war between the monsters and the toys. Or at least, whatever or whoever is telling the toys what to do. The toys protect the children, but the monsters need the children to be vulnerable for them to collect energy. This would have to be when the monsters were collecting scream energy, not laugh energy, because only then would they pose a threat to children. That might also explain why the monsters have such a hard time scaring adults and why they hardly ever do it. Adults don’t have toys anymore, and the monsters only know how to scare children when they are being influenced by toys. Maybe the existence of the toys makes children different, more susceptible to scaring.
    The toys are just protecting their kids, and the monsters are just trying to collect energy. Maybe the items in rooms are always moved around by the defensive toys, and that’s why it’s part of the simulation.
    Please let me know if this makes sense.

    • Interesting thought, but the toys couldn’t be real because they are powered by humans and there are no humans in the monster world (At least there isn’t supposed to be:p).

    • I think it’s more likely that the toys in the simulation are being controlled by the monsters.

  7. I was bugged by that “mistake” too. This theory makes so much more sense than it being a simple movie mistake!
    Thanks, Jon. I was looking for an explanation.

  8. There is also that sock on the back of that orange monster (which i forget the name) who got shaved by the yellow guys after it. I think it was a toy who throw that on him or even the sock it self.(sorry my bad english)

    • If a toy can throw stuff at the monsters, then why not throw something heavy, like a soccer ball?
      I think that the toy(s) knew that the monsters think kids are toxic, and that by putting the sock on him, they would be punishing him more then by throwing something heavier at him.
      By the way, your English is fine, or at least no worse then the average person’s is

    • Interesting…also the monster’s name is George

  9. If you look at the picture by Boo behind Mike fom monsters inc., it looks like the robot from the big fight scene in The Incredibles. You know, the robot that Sinestro built to destroy Mr. Incredible and his family.

    • Not Sinestro, SYNDROME!!!!

  10. I’m writing this from memory but I think in monsters u, when sully and mike were scaring the adults in the cabin, they wound up a doll that walked across the floor. If the doll was “alive” would it be helping the monsters?

    Great article as always Jon! Your Pixar theories are so exhilarating!

    • No, the doll couldn’t help the humans without exposing that toys are alive, therefore it did nothing.

  11. Forgive me if I’m hallucinating wildly, but I thought Mike and Sulley flunked out of Monsters University and had to work their way up within the organisation, starting at the mail room.

    I always assumed this meant there was in house training available to become a scarer, which would explain the scene in question. This would imply that university was the academic/privileged route to a prestigious career (rather a nice parallel to our current society).

    One final point: all good organisations offer their employees ongoing professional development so that they can consciously improve their skills, keep up with new developments and become more valuable to the company. The scare simulation — and possibly the sentient toy element — could be explained in this way, perfectly credibly in my opinion.

  12. Reblogged this on shannonlouiise and commented:

    I’ve always thought the simulation child looks like Andy and the Mum’s voice also sounds similar to Andy’s Mum.

  13. I’ve always thought the simulation child looks like Andy and the Mum’s voice also sounds similar to Andy’s Mum.

    • I don’t know what your point is, but I don’t think the fact’s connected.

  14. Could the toys in the monster world have regained their sentient state when Boo arrived?

  15. Maybe in the past, pro scarers reported toys striking back to their bosses but none-the-wiser students have never said anything to their teachers.

  16. Here’s another thought that occurred to me the other day: do ai have emotions too? I feel like the toys have to have emotions too (like from Inside Out) but would the robot from the incredibles or wall-e have emotions? We know animals do -Ross 🙈🙉🙊

    • That is a really great fact!!! 😀

  17. I just really love pixar because it’s like a big mystery waiting to be figured out and it’s EPIC how everything is intertwined in a way.

  18. Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the simulation kid/robot looks like and acts as a normal human would react. Possible enticing the fact the the monsters are “using” humans which would quite literally male them “monsters” or maybe im being pesssmistic. But if that is to be said then why would toys protect a “fake/robotic” human? Perhaps this is what boo discovers before leaving to find Sully through the doors so she can tell him what she discovered

  19. I love your theories Jon, and because of this I think it’s important that flaws in these theories are found, so if any evidence are built on these theories they’re not fake and crumble. So I have only found one problem with this particular one. If the toys need human energy to thrive and live then how can they be alive in the simulation where there are no humans? Sorry if you’ve already covered this, but I thought just in case.

  20. maybe the toys are powered by the(positive loving) energy and hurt by the(negative scared)energy the monsters used at that time.maybe the toys fight back by throwing things like socks.maybe andys toys are so good at it that they had to destroy andys door.maybe the fact that Boo has a jessie doll(a member of the roundup gang)means that Boos room is also well defended(defended enough that randall cant keep up with sully).maybe the members of the roundup gang are equal to the jedi in their long standing battle with the monsters of the future with stinky pete being of the sith maybe thats the real reason woody doesnt like Buzz-because buzz has been sent from the future to infiltrate andys room and take out the john conner-like figure woody.he has no knowledge he is a toy,hes been brain washed so deeply by his AI leaders in the future that he thinks he can fly.wait andys mums room had a jessie doll and her room would have been defended to the point of the monsters destroying her door.thats why jessie is so sad she was thrown away and vengeful too after years of being trapped in a box she found a way into andys mums house to exact her revenge.lol im losing it i thought i was going somewhere but my heads about to explode.love the pixar theory.

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