- "Scariness is the true measure of a monster. If you're not scary, what kind of a monster are you?"
- —Dean Hardscrabble
Dean Hardscrabble (full name Dr. Abigail Hardscrabble) is a major character in Monsters University. She's a dark red dragon-like monster with centipede legs and red bat wings. She is the dean of the School of Scaring at Monsters University.
"To Dean Hardscrabble, there are scary monsters and there are all other monsters. It’s no surprise she feels this way—she is, after all, a legendary Scarer and Dean of the School of Scaring at Monsters University. Aspiring Scare students must be up for the challenge to impress her, though she is convinced that her assessment of who is truly scary and who is not is never wrong."
Dean Hardscrabble is first seen flying into Professor Knight's classroom, causing all of the lights in the room to go out with a single flap of her wings. Hardscrabble then tells all of Prof. Knight's students (including Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan) that they all have to complete a final exam so that they can enter the Scaring Program or else they will be kicked out of the program. Unfortunately, Mike, despite wanting to be a scarer very badly, is unable to scare anyone. And Sulley, despite already being scary, never studies or completes his homework. Because of this, Hardscrabble sees Mike and Sulley get into a big roar-off, ending with both monsters accidentally breaking the dean's prized scream canister. Despite staying calm about it, Hardscrabble has the two both kicked out of the School of Scaring.
However, Mike and Sulley find out that the only way to get back into the School of Scaring is to compete in the Scare Games with a fraternity of rejected monsters called Oozma Kappa. And as a result, Mike makes a deal with the dean that if they and OK win the Games, he and Sulley will be readmitted to the program. But if they lose, they will have to leave the school forever. During the Scare Games, Dean Hardscrabble is secretly watching Mike and Sulley competing from afar, aware that they are both going to fail. But after OK wins the Games when they beat Roar Omega Roar in the final round with the scare simulators, Sulley tells Hardscrabble that he cheated by setting Mike's simulator level to easy just to make OK win since to him it's a no-win situation for them otherwise due to Mike's inability to scare. The dean is about to send him away when she is alerted that Mike had secretly snuck into the door lab, prompting Sulley to go there to save his friend. Hardscrabble then shuts down the door in question, which led to a cabin at a campsite until the authorities arrive, but Mike and Sulley manage to escape back by scaring several human adults in the form of a team of police officers.
Hardscrabble then has both Mike and Sulley expelled from Monsters University permanently, but was sad to let them go because their actions, while considered as a major offense to her school, ended up surprising her. As Mike and Sulley leave, Hardscrabble catches them at the exit and encourages them to "keep surprising people," wishing them luck in the process.
Her words eventually come true as Sulley and Mike manage to create a new means of creating energy through laugh, which is much more powerful than scream. Due to this disruptive change in the industry, it is highly possible that she has to redesign the school curriculum to educate and train future comedians.
Hardscrabble is the archetype of a strict and no-nonsense school headteacher, and not so easily pleased. She is not afraid to point out somebody's shortcomings and even lightly taunts students who do not impress her. At the same time, however, she believes in fair circumstances, as she is angered when one of the teams in the Scare Games cheats and when Sulley admits that he rigged the machinery on the last event to help Mike win. But despite her harsh exterior, the climax of the film depicts Hardscrabble as capable of a certain degree of sympathy. After Mike bravely makes a bet with her and indeed surprises her at the end of the Scare Games, Hardscrabble warms up to both him and Sulley, and is visibly upset at the idea of expelling them from the university, and does her best to encourage them and wish them the best of luck in the future. But she is proud of them when they worked their way up to Scarers in Monsters Inc.
While Hardscrabble is far from evil or malicious, it is entirely possible for her to be seen as the main antagonist of the film, given that she is Mike and Sulley's primary opponent in the film, in a similar vein to Anton Ego.
Character Development and Design
The Dean was originally to be a male character, whose design was based on an alligator. However, late in the production, a few weeks before starting animation, Dan Scanlon decided the character had to be a female. Character Art Director Jason Deamer says Scanlon likes "to play things again type" and believes that was the trigger of the change, as "a male antagonist Dean is an accepted thing in the college movie genre, so the idea was that it would be more interesting to make her a female; it’s something new". Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann says about Hardscarbble male version that "he just came in and did a lot of yelling and screaming and it didn’t really intimidate you. [With Hardscrabble's final version] It’s a kind of quiet reserved judgement that really sends the chills up your spine".
The artists first tried to make minor changes to the male design they had to feminize it, but found it wasn't sufficient, and started over from scratch. A team of character designers, comprising artists that worked on the original Monsters, Inc., was gathered. They went through many designs, trying basing her on a crab, scorpion, snake, moth, bat and owl. The biggest problem came from that her appearance had to reflect she is both the dean of the school and a legendary Scarer, two ideas that they found were not necessarily compatible. As Deamer explains, "Some designs worked as the Dean of a school but maybe not as the best Scarer ever, and then others works as the most amazing Scarer but not convincing as a Dean, and it wasn’t until we came across this giant centipede that it happened."
They finally settled on a type of centipede called Scolopendra Gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant centipede, that combined the creepiness, authority and elegance they wanted Hardscrabble to have. One was brought to Pixar for reference, and was called Kendra the Scolopendra by the MU crew. An expert was also dispatched to manipulate the beast. Hardscrabble's head takes from the crowns of horned lizards, and her wings are based on those of bats and designed to blend into her jacket when folded.
- Hardscrabble bears some resemblance to Maleficent, the villainess of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, especially her dragon form. Curiously enough, the librarian also bears some resemblance to Ursula from The Little Mermaid.
- She also bears some resemblance to Giratina, a Ghost/Dragon-type legendary Pokémon from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Versions, both are draconic creatures with multiple legs, large wings, and similarly-shaped horns.
- In some ways, Hardscrabble appears to be the complete opposite of Waternoose and Lotso from Toy Story 3 : while Lotso and Waternoose appeared friendly and kind-natured but are actually cruel and evil, and are therefore the film's main antagonist; Hardscrabble appears stern and unpleasant but is actually caring and benign, and is therefore an ally to Mike and Sulley.
- Hardscrabble's personality resembles Anton Ego's from Ratatouille and the Grand Councilwoman's from Disney's Lilo & Stitch.
- When Hardscrabble sees Sulley go into the door leading to the girls' cabin to save Mike Wazowski from several human policemen by roaring at them she yells, "Don't go in there!" A similar line was said by Waternoose at the end of the original film when Sulley and Boo trick him into exposing his evil plans and being arrested by the CDA by luring him into the scare simulation room, which he yells, "Don't go in that room!"
- Hardscrabble used to be a member of HSS.
- Hardscrabble founded the Scare Games when she was a student, and won them four years in a row.
- It is unknown of what happened to Dean Hardscrabble's career when Monsters, Inc. switched from scaring children to making them laugh. It's possible, however, that she still determines which monsters are scary and which ones aren't, since other companies may still be reliant on scaring, and the ones that aren't scary end up at Monsters, Inc.
- "Hardscrabble" actually means "very poor reward, regardless of hard work," which appropriately describes how she treats her students: anyone who does not live up to her expectations cannot attend her school.
- "Very well. If you win, I will let your entire team into the Scare Program. But if you lose, you will leave Monsters University."
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