‘Monsters at Work’ (Review)

Jul 2, 2021

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‘Monsters at Work’
Disney Television Animation

Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson, Rob Gibbs, Kate Good
Written by: Pete Docter (Based on characters by), Roberts Gannaway
Starring: Ben Feldman, John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mindy Kaling

Disney’s animated spinoff series excites, but falls short of topping the iconic original film.

Picking up immediately after the end of 2001’s beloved Pixar classic Monsters, Inc., Monsters at Work is the first spin-off featuring Pixar characters to debut on Disney+ this summer. But can Disney’s newest animated workplace comedy with an all-star cast lure in both kids and grown-ups alike?

The new series follows a two-horned lovable college grad Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman) who, having just received a job offer for the scarer position at Monsters, Inc., finds himself the eye of the storm that is the chaotic transformation of Monstropolis’ anchoring enterprise. Since the discovery that child laughter produces significantly more energy than screams, the corporation wrestles through a business model shift under the guidance of its new CEO, Mike Wazowski himself (Billy Crystal). Unsure of his comedic prowess, now a job requirement at the company, Tylor is temporarily reassigned to the MIFT - Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team, a band of misfit monsters running the shop behind the scenes, performing maintenance and saving the day as the unsung heroes. 

That, however, doesn’t quite excite Tylor, who enlists in Mike Wazowski’s comedy workshop, as his downstairs MIFT co-workers feel alienated by Tylor’s indifference towards their cause and overly enthusiastic work style.

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The original Monsters Inc. was, among other things, a brilliant, approachable satire of the corporate world, preparing children for the bright future of filing paperwork we all wish would just blow away, clocking in and clocking out, and being subject to monitoring by creepy bosses. Monsters at Work picks that up without missing a beat through a new lens of a half-hour workplace comedy format that feels just right. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, however, as Tylor grows more comfortable with performing his duties of a MIFT repairman that he only views as a temporary assignment until a better opportunity manifests.

This sends an important message that “settling” into an unfavorable position in pursuit of dreams is not a bad thing, but rather part of a bigger journey that may equip us with invaluable skills and experience. When Tylor meets his Monsters University classmate Val (Mindy Kaling), she reveals she had dropped out of college and notes that she and Tylor nevertheless ended up working at the same department of the same company. As college admission numbers fall and costs rise exponentially, the lesson is that hard work and resourcefulness penetrate barriers imposed by a lack of a diploma and, conversely, that a diploma is not the golden ticket to life.

Television animation has caught up with decade-old feature film technology, and Monsters at Work, notably lacking involvement from Pixar’s legendary animation team, nails the look and feel of the 2001 film, providing a seamless transition into the new story. The new characters have yet to prove they can stand out among the show-stealing fan favorites Sully (John Goodman), Mike, and, of course, Roz (Bob Peterson).

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One MIFT member stands out to me more than the others, however. The multiple-eyed, bat-winged Duncan (Lucas Neff) is a scheming worker with a secret that makes an effort to befriend Tylor and truly breaks away from the cheerful, colorful MIFT crowd. Are we witnessing the emergence of a potential Randall 2.0 and the show’s future primary antagonist? 

I’m pleased that Monsters, Inc.’s jazzy score has found its way into the series, helmed by DuckTales revival composer Dominic Lewis, and this time it includes an a cappella rendition of the iconic theme song set to the hand-drawn machinery backgrounds harkening back to the original film’s main title sequence. 

So, is Disney’s latest stab at beloved Pixar IP in the streaming animation form worthy of its predecessor? There is much to unpack here since it’s not clear yet how the series positions itself. The original characters are given a pleasing amount of screen time, at times making Monsters at Work feel more like a direct-to-video sequel to the original. Will the series find its stride as the inner workings and unseen levels of the Monsters Inc. building are revealed? 

All signs point to “yes.” Until then, in the voice of our succulent little garden snail herself, Roz:

Keep watching. Always watching…

SCORE: 7.0

Monsters at Work premieres on Disney+ July 7.

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