Billy Crystal is the actor who voices Mike Wazowski. Crystal’s career has spanned iconic films such as “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers” and “Analyze This.” Yet Crystal recently told USA Today that “Mike is his favorite role in his entire career, partly due to the never-ending optimism seen in both films.”
“(Mike) is not the coolest-looking guy in the world and he's a little guy," the actor said. "But he's so much fun and he has such a range of emotions that I totally relate to him."
Even though Mike Wazowski exhibited plenty of optimism in “Monsters Inc.” by coping with mild-to-moderate crises in his personal and professional lives, his optimistic worldview is much more integral to the plot of “Monsters University,” a prequel that primarily focuses on Mike’s first year of college. In essence, Mike wants his major to be in the School of Scaring — even though everyone from the university president to his peer students keeps telling him he’s just not scary enough.
Approximately half of “Monsters University” revolves around the Scare Games, a weeklong event in which fraternities and sororities engage in series of competitions designed to measure their scariness.
By the time the Scare Games roll around, has Mike has already been booted out of the School of Scaring. But instead of bemoaning his bad luck, Mike joins a fraternity and negotiates a potential path back into the Scare School: If his fraternity Oozma Kappa can somehow win the Scare Games, he will be readmitted into the School of Scaring.
Just one problem with that plan: With the exception of Sulley (John Goodman), Mike’s fellow Oozma Kappa pledges are even less scary than he is.
Yet Mike is again quite unfazed by the adversity. He proactively pursues a Scare Week victory — the intermediary goal that will gain him re-entry into the Scare School — by reading every book about scaring that he can get his hands on. And in order to ameliorate the shortcomings of his teammates, happy-go-lucky Mike takes on the persona of a chirpy drill instructor while putting the boys of Oozma Kappa through drills like calisthenics and cardiovascular workouts.
Mike’s adaptable and diligent approach to pursuing his goal necessarily evokes something Carver said about optimists: “Of course, the expectation that things will work out for the best also helps them maintain emotional equilibrium. Being less stressed, they are less distressed.”
Scare Week is full of surprises that cannot be revealed here without spoiling plot twists. But suffice it to say, the underlying force fueling the film’s plot development is Mike Wazowski’s optimism — his confidence that good things are going to happen, his ability to adapt his strategy to evolving circumstances, and resiliency in the face of adversity.
When optimism fails
There may be times when optimism proves to be a hindrance to happiness. However, the notion that optimists will feel downright discouraged when things don’t go according to plan is actually very much a myth.
“If someone expects things to go well and they turn out badly, you’d think that person will be very disappointed,” Segerstrom said. “That actually turns out not to be true. People who are optimistic, when the bad thing does happen they either have no change in their psychological health or in some cases they’re actually a little better off, probably because they cope so effectively with stress.”
In order to illustrate one very slim downside to optimism, Segerstrom pointed to research that shows optimists may be susceptible to gambling addiction via slot machines.
“There’s a study that had people playing a fake gambling game like a slot machine, and people that were optimistic were more likely to keep gambling if they were given more ‘close calls,’ ” she said. “They felt like they were making progress — they were almost there, they almost had it.
“But of course there’s no correlation between your performance on one spin of a slot machine and your performance on your next spin. So in that one situation optimism is not good, even though in 99.999 percent of situations it’s an advantage.”
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