Monsters at Work Is a Bland Pixar Spinoff
Josh Bell
Monsters at Work
Monsters at Work
One of the selling points of Disney+ is that it features original content from the same people who work on Disney's theatrical releases. As a result, fans have come to expect the same level of quality from the platform's Marvel and Star Wars shows as its movies. Given that Pixar's two latest films (Soul and Luca) debuted directly on Disney+, it would make sense to expect that Monsters, Inc. spin-off series, Monsters at Work, would follow in Disney+'s acclaimed Marvel and Star Wars series model, bringing original Pixar content to an episodic format.
However, Monsters at Work is to Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University as the Planes movies are to the Cars series -- extending a Pixar brand without Pixar's creative oversight. Monsters at Work is created by Bobs Gannaway, a veteran of Disney's animated TV series who also worked on the Planes movies, and produced by Disney Television Animation. Overall, the Disney+ series has the feel of a weekday afternoon cartoon that was churned out quickly to capitalize on a successful property, featuring lesser versions of the franchise's characters.
Many of the monsters from Pixar's two Monsters movies show up in Monsters at Work, but the focus is mainly on the series' new characters. After the events of Monsters, Inc., the monster city of Monstropolis is no longer being powered by the screams of children. Thanks to the discoveries made by Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and Sulley Sullivan (John Goodman), the monsters now know that children's laughs are far more powerful. That means that Monsters, Inc. has to shift its focus from scaring kids to making them laugh.
The real main character of Monsters at Work is a new hire named Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), who's excited to start work as a scarer and distressed to learn that the job he studied so hard for no longer exists. Tylor is instead transferred to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), a group of misfits and outcasts who maintain the company's equipment. MIFT's secluded office and an assortment of oddball co-workers recall workplace sitcoms from The IT Crowd to Ground Floor and the low-stakes set-up is perfect for episodic storytelling.
Tylor's MIFT colleagues include his irritatingly peppy former college classmate Val (Mindy Kaling); avuncular boss Fritz (Henry Winkler); ambitious and suspicious plumber Duncan (Lucas Neff); and chipper company booster Cutter (Alanna Ubach). The MIFT team interacts with Mike and Sulley and some other returning characters from the movies, but the series mainly focuses on their team dynamic and Tylor's quest to become a jokester.
The two episodes that were available for CBR's review balance the storytelling between the company's adjustments (led by Mike and Sulley) and MIFT's everyday tasks. The jokes are mild and obvious, generating polite chuckles at best. Monsters at Work is a low-key and undemanding watch and it's an adequate introduction to the Pixar world for kids. But it lacks the cleverness and immersive world-building of even lower-tier Pixar movies. Its new characters are bland and functional, despite their colorful and bizarrely shaped looks. It's not hard to tell which characters came from the movies and which were created for the TV series.
The series' biggest problem is Tylor, who's a dull protagonist with a single-minded motivation. The writing for Mike and Sulley may not be as strong here as it was in the movies, but their vocal performances are much more charismatic than Tylor and he often gets overshadowed. Feldman seems to be aiming for an everyman (or every monster) approach to his performance, but that just means that Tylor is almost always the least distinctive character.
The animation on Monsters at Work is simpler and more streamlined than in Pixar movies. Anyone toggling between Soul and/or Luca and then Monsters at Work on Disney+ will see the difference clearly and immediately. It's perfectly acceptable animation for a mid-level streaming series, but Pixar has set the bar so high that it's tough not to be disappointed.
There's nothing inherently wrong with Disney creating a second-string version of one of its flagship properties, and maybe Monsters at Work will find more of a distinctive voice over the course of its 10-episode first season. But it represents a dilution of the Pixar brand in a way that Marvel and Star Wars have avoided, and in that sense, it feels like a bit of a failed promise from both Pixar and Disney+.
Starring the voices of Ben Feldman, Mindy Kaling, Henry Winkler, Lucas Neff, Alanna Ubach, John Goodman and Billy Crystal, the first two episodes of Monsters at Work premiere July 7 on Disney+, with subsequent episodes debuting each Wednesday.