Friday, 14 October 2016

'Monsters, Inc.' | Three Act Structure

In this modern era of cinema films often enjoy shaking up the norm as it were, delivering more structurally challenging stories, however the art form of film hasn't always been this way, for generations countless movies have meticulously followed the idea of a structured tale. The notion of a 'Three Act' structure dates back centuries, implying that the human brain has always had some level of understanding or appreciation for a story that seems familiar or it some cases, simple. The three act structure is essentially an idea that suggests every story follows the same beats, in its simplest terms, a beginning, middle and end. Now this idea has been disputed over time and it has been suggested that a five act structure would be a better way of breaking down the framework of a story.

This idea of a three act structure is never the less present in countless films, and Pixar's animated feature Monster Inc.(2002) is no exception to that, a film created by who's animation, according to Ebert "creates an uncanny sense of dimension and movement" (Ebert, 2001). The tale of two monsters tasked with returning a human girl back to her own world most definitely has the vital components that help meet this three act structure, namely, a beginning, middle and end.

Fig 1: Movie Poster, Monsters, Inc.

The first act in this structure is often extremely similar within films, the act where characters are introduced, worlds are explored and often an act where motives are explained and understood. In the case of Monsters, Inc. the first act consists of meeting the main heroes, Mike and Sully, and getting to know the world they live in, a place that has been described as "Cleverly Developed" (Plath, 2016). Now this notion of understanding a world or more particularly, the rules of that world, are extremely prominent in this animated feature, as the way these monsters live their lives and the social laws they abide by helps to craft the beginnings of the story. As the audience is given subtle exposition explaining the idea of a human within their world as being an extremely taboo subject, and something that could land a monster in a tone of trouble, the pieces of this story begin to slide into place, giving the viewer an idea of where this charming story could be heading. Also within this Act, it is often found that an incident will occur that sets up the rest of the film, essentially putting the story into gear. In Monsters, Inc. this incident exists in the event of the child character Boo, finding herself in the monsters world and our main heroes having to deal with the task of firstly hiding her, and eventually coming up with a plan to return her home.

Fig 2: Mike And Sully, Screenshot, Monsters, Inc.

The second Act of this structure is where the main events of the story take place, the bulk of the story if you will. The first part of this second act is often filled with obstacles that the hero must overcome in order to achieve their goal. In the case of Mike and Sully, their first obstacle is Randall, a rival monster on the scare floor who suspects the heroic pair may be up to something and takes any opportunity to catch them red handed. The first culmination is generally the step that follows next and in this case simply becomes the fact that Mike and Sully begin to devise a plan to return Boo home without being noticed, which as one can imagine, rarely goes to plan, leading onto the mid point, where the challenges begin to increase in difficulty. In Monster, Inc. this comes in the form of Randall managing to catch the pair trying to return Boo home and ensuring the girl is taken and the heroes are banished to another world, creating an alteration in the story that the heroes must overcome. For Mike and Sully this next obstacle is the task of getting home, climbing through countless portal doors to try and find their way home to rescue Boo and stop the evil Randall in his tracks. Now comes the climax of the story, the big heroic deed that must be fulfilled in order for the quest to be complete, in this animated classic the climax is the sequence in which the banished pair return home to rescue Boo and are chased through countless doors by Randall, leading to Mike and Sully eventually besting Randall and exposing the villainous Mr Waternoose as the corrupt boss he really is.

Fig 3: Randall, Screenshot, Monsters, Inc.

The third act in this structure is the part of nearly every story where the quest the heroes venture out on is complete and any tasks left are resolved. For Mike and Sully this the part of the story where the pair manage to successfully manage to return Boo home to her own world, a scene that not only resolves the main objective of the duo but also leaves the audience in floods of tears. As the main quest is now resolved, any unfinished tasks or loose ends are generally tied up, in Monsters, Inc. this is when the pair manage to turn the companies motives and ideals around, successfully changing the main goal of a monster from being to scare a child, to making one laugh, creating a more ethical and sustainable source of energy for the monster world.

Now although this three act structure does have it critics, suggesting that a five act structure would be more suitable, one cannot deny that the formula does manage to find its way into a number of stories, ensuring that the tale is not only familiar, but relatable, and the heart warming Monsters, Inc., a film that has been described as " soaringly lovely(Collin, Robey, 2013) is no exception.


Collin, Robbie, Robey, Tim, 2013, Film in brief: The Wee Man, Ballroom Dancer, Monsters Inc 3D, review,, Accessed on: 14.10.16

Ebert, Roger, 2001, Monsters, Inc.,, Accessed on: 14.10.16

Plath, James, 2016, MONSTERS. INC, (Ultimate Collector's Edition),, Accessed on: 14.10.16

Illustration List

Fig 1: Movie Poster, Monsters, Inc.,, Accessed on: 14.10.16

Fig 2: Screenshot, Monsters, Inc.,, Accessed on: 14.10.16

Fig 3: Randall, Screenshot, Monsters, Inc.,, Accessed on: 14.10.16


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