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Disney+ Review: Monsters at Work (First Two Episodes)

July 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Twenty years after the release of Monsters, Inc., which already got an official prequel in 2013 with Monsters University, we are now getting a spinoff and continuation of that Pixar classic in the form of the new Disney+ series Monsters at Work.

The ten-episode series is set in the direct aftermath of the 2001 film, with the company now going through the growing pains of switching to collecting laughs instead of screams to power the city of Monstropolis. And based on the first two episodes, which I was able to preview in advance and are premiering this week, the show is mildly amusing but also feels somewhat needless.

The series follows in the footsteps of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command as only the second TV show to be based on a Pixar movie, and like that somewhat forgotten Toy Story spinoff from the early 2000s, Monsters at Work is also not actually a Pixar production. It was produced by Disney Television Animation and animated by ICON Creative Studio in Vancouver, and it sort of has the feel one of those direct-to-video sequels that Disney was putting out for a while in the 1990s and 2000s.

Which is to say that it’s passable and will please younger audience members, but also not up to the level of the films that preceded it. Yes, there are a few cute moments sprinkled throughout, including some fun appearances from familiar characters. But the show feels more in line with the Planes movies, those harmless but pretty forgettable spinoffs of the Cars franchise from Disney Toon Studios, than it does a proper Pixar production. Which makes sense, since the executive producer and showrunner of the series is Bobs Gannaway, a Disney TV veteran who worked on the first Planes and directed its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue.

The loveable stars of the two Monsters films, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), do appear here, and it is nice to hear the original voice actors reprising their roles. But Mike and Sulley are also reduced to supporting players who only show up periodically, and the main star of Monsters at Work is actually a new character named Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman). Tylor is an aspiring Scarer who has just graduated from Monsters University and is hired to work at Monsters, Incorporated, only to discover the switch that has taken place there when he arrives on his first day.

With his skills not sharp enough yet to land a spot as a Jokester on the newly remodelled Laugh Floor, Tylor gets relocated to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), a band of quirky outsiders who keep things running behind the scenes. The team is made up of several new characters, including Tylor’s overeager, arch-shaped former classmate Val (Mindy Kaling); the dopey, bighearted supervisor Fritz (Henry Winkler); the ornery, Waternoose-looking Cutter (Alanna Ubach); the scheming, multi-eyed Duncan (Lucas Neff); and a very silly, non-verbal monster known as Banana Bread.

From here, Monsters at Work basically plays out as a situational workplace comedy, as Tylor interacts with his co-workers, learns the ropes of his new job, and sets a course to rise through the ranks of the company. And, look, it’s fine, at least for what it is. There are some amusing moments here and there, and the show is accompanied by a jazzy score by Dominic Lewis that pays tribute to Randy Newman’s music in the original film, including a solid cover of the iconic theme.

But the show lacks much of the imagination and genuine heart of the original movie. The characters and storylines feel more simplistic, and the show plays out with a lot of slapstick humour that skews towards the younger set. In theory, exploring the transition from scream to laugh energy is a natural jumping off point for a continuation of Monsters, Inc. But the ending of the first film was also so perfect that a follow up wasn’t really necessary. In this regard, Monsters at Work feels somewhat needless from a narrative perspective, and ends up feeling more like a Disneyfied brand extension for the franchise.

While the show does seem geared towards a younger audience, I am also squarely in that adult nostalgia bracket that Disney is at least partially trying to reach. Monsters, Inc. was one of my favourite movies growing up, and as a kid I always thought it would be kind of cool to see a sequel exploring more of the world. But as I got older, I came to appreciate the film’s bittersweet final moments for how they provide just the right amount of closure for Sulley and Boo. The truth is, we don’t need to see where the story goes next, which makes this series seem unnecessary for anyone who shares that mindset.

This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Monsters University so much. It let us spend more time with these characters before the events of the first film, while keeping the ending intact. I don’t want to judge Monsters at Work too harshly based only on the first two episodes, and I’m curious enough to see where the story goes next and if it ekes out more of a reason for its existence in the next eight chapters. But the first two episodes of Monsters at Work reveal an animated sitcom that is okay but unremarkable, which feels like kind of a letdown for an extension of such a beloved film in the Pixar canon.

The first two episodes of Monsters at Work are now available to stream on Disney+, and new episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays.

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