Oh boy, I love Monsters, Inc. (2001) it is by far one of my favorite Pixar movies, second only to The Incredibles (2004). I loved it as a child because it is really funny. Now, as an adult, I love it because… well its still very funny. But I also love it because of how well the movie handles its big bad guy.
To anyone who doesn’t know, a twist villain, or Evil all along or whatever you want to call it, is the trope, popular in movies, where a character who is presented to be a good guy turns out to be a bad guy instead. I’m sure a couple just popped in your head right now. Some are done poorly, like another Disney film, Tarzan. Now I love Tarzan but even as a kid I took one look at Clayton and knew that he’d turn out to be the bad guy in the end. So, it being done poorly doesn’t automatically make the movie bad. But when it’s done well, it only enhances the story. Monsters Inc. does it really well.
If you have never seen Monsters, Inc. I beg you to go watch it. It’s phenomenal and is on Disney+ right now. But, as stated by IMDB.com, it’s about a world where “in order to power the city, monsters have to scare children so that they scream. However, the children are toxic to the monsters, and after a child gets through, 2 monsters realize things may not be what they think.” Now what did this movie do that makes its twist villain so good? I’ll tell you. To be a successful twist villain you need to independently succeed as both a twist and as a villain. First, how he succeeds as a twist:
Henry J. Waternoose III in any other movie would be the obvious villain. Right? Either because he is some weird spider crab monster or because he is a capitalist. So how do they get us to think he won’t be the villain? Well, for starters, in the world of Monsters, Inc. he is just another monster. But they go even further to distract us from him being the bad guy by having the character of Randall. Now, Randall is so obviously the villain as soon as he is seen and the movie doesn’t hide it. It’s established immediately. So, the audience focuses on him being the bad guy and doesn’t even consider Waternoose. Additionally, he is shown to be a supportive fatherly figure to the main character Sully. We see nothing but his good side until the film’s third act. So, his turn is truly a surprise. “But”, I hear you saying “what about this makes him one of the greats? A lot of twist villains are surprises?” I’ll tell you. Where in some movies the good version and the bad version of the character feel like two different characters, like Hans in Frozen (2013). Meanwhile, there is no difference in Waternoose’s characterization when he is a good guy and when he is the bad guy. He’s the same guy, or monster. He always wanted what was best for his company, his employees, and his city. At the beginning of the movie Sully was what was best for the company but by the end Sully is a threat to expose him, so his villainous side is shown. So, he clearly becomes the bad guy.
So, it is clear that he succeeds as twist but he also succeeds as being a compelling villains. Some of the best bad guys are ones whose actions and motivations are understandable. I’d argue that Waternoose’s motivation is pretty understandable. Yes, his actions are evil, kidnapping children. But his motivations are honorable. The city of Montopolis is facing an energy crisis. A crisis, that he believes can only be solved by kidnapping children and stealing their screams, this all makes more sense if you’ve seen the movie. He sees no other way to solve the crisis, keep his company afloat, and all his employees employed. He simply sees it as a necessary evil. This makes him a compelling villain, at least in my eyes. You may not agree with his actions but his reasoning makes sense.
He succeeds as a villain because he is not just pure evil. It is easy to see why he made the choices he did and in some ways, is understandable. He then succeeds as a twist villain because Randall serves as a distraction, his character doesn’t really change after the twist, and his motivations are at least understandable. A lot of twist villains fail. Either they are painfully obviously the bad guy, the twist completely changes the character, or their motivation doesn’t make sense and doesn’t explain their turn to the bad guy.
I don’t know if I did a great job at explaining it, but I just re-watched the movie for the first time in a while and needed to get all my thoughts out immediately. Just know that the character of Waternoose is very well handled and him being the twist villain is expertly done. I give Monsters, Inc. 10 screams out of 10.