If you’re already here, that suggests you’re a fan of Monsters Inc and Monsters University, especially with the latter being a large part of the setup for this new series that comes to Disney+ on 7 July. Developed by Bobs Gannaway (known for a number of TV series spin-off animations) and slightly using two key characters from those aforementioned animated movies, Monsters at Work takes us into the next stage of the Monsters factory, but things have changed. If you’ve watched Monsters Uni, then you’ll be aware that scares are no longer the way to create power for their city but laughter does. However, the scarers are finding it difficult to generate as much laughter from children, as they could with screams, and Monstropolis is having power cuts and surges as they struggle to find a renewed balance.
So, the setup for Monsters at Work is going to be about finding a way to re-train everyone but this is a different vibe and style to the franchise that we know so well. First of all, the audience focus is clearly a younger target market than a wider, more general one and while we do get the classic duo of Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal), and they’ve been put in charge of everything, they’re not the leads for the series, and are definitely not our focus.
Enter Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), a monster who’s graduated top of his class in Monsters University and has dreamed of emulating Sulley as a top scarer, but on his first day at Monsters Inc it quickly becomes clear that his hopes are to be quickly dashed because what good is frightening kids, when you need comedy? In order to balance his confusion, and keep him busy I assume, he’s quickly recruited into the Monsters Inc Facilities Team (MIFT), who are a proud and crazy team, not too unlike Mike’s housemates in Monsters University to be honest, and it becomes obvious over the opening two episodes that Tylor’s goal here will be to become a Jokester, instead of a scarer.
So, here’s the key shift with Monsters at Work, it’s not about Mike and Sulley – as it initially appeared it would be – they’re running the joint and pretty much appear in cameo roles for specific ‘moment’ scenes. The 10-episode series is all about Tylor and his journey, alongside his mad but welcoming colleagues. The stand-out characters from the newbies are Mindy Kaling’s fast-talking, friendly Val, and Henry Winkler’s Fritz, both of whom bring life to otherwise pretty bland scenes with vivid characters, packed full of life and strong vocal performances – they’re both very likeable.
While I’ve already noted the series is clearly aiming for a young audience, the opening episodes aren’t exactly sparking on all cylinders, and this somewhat comes down to an inoffensive lead in Tylor. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing in animation but he’s not really that interesting and feels like an easy link between the old and the new. Maybe his progression will come later but he feels a little underdeveloped, in both character and animation, and it’s difficult to see him as an iconic character in the early stages.
The other problem is that the visuals are nowhere near as vivid as we’d come to expect from this Monsters Inc world, I wasn’t sure if something was waiting to be finalised in a production sense, but I think this is just reflective of a smaller Disney budget with many characters and scenes reasonably sparse and less inventive than our usual Pixar expectations. However, despite the usual formula being more than obvious, there are funny moments involved and I’m sure this will please the kids who love the world they know so well, just don’t expect the clarity and sharpness that the films achieve so impressively.