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Monsters at Work, Episode One

Mike and Sully are back on our screens with a flurry of new monster employees. Monsters at Work picks up right where the 2001 smash hit Monsters Inc. left off. Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their roles as the dynamic duo, joined by Ben Feldman as the voice of newcomer, Tyler Tuskmon. The series has been released on Disney+.

Our team were eager to revisit the city of Monstropolis and see how these beloved characters were holding up.

A still from Monsters Inc. There are two characters, Mike and Sully, standing either side of a white door with pink flowers painted on. Mike is a short round monster with skinny arms and legs. He has one large blue eye and a blue builders hat on. He is smiling with a thumbs up at Sully. Sully is a large blue monster with lots of fur and purple smots. He has small horns on his head and black talons. He is also smiling, leaning on a pile of energy canisters.
The dream team are back in action

Ruby

Wowee the nostalgia! I really didn’t anticipate how happy that intro music would make me feel; like Tylor Tuskmon, I have also just finished university and am trying to get on with ‘grown-up’ life. It was so comforting to revisit all of the characters from Monsters Inc, the first film I saw in cinema and my favourite Disney movie growing up. 

Bringing back John Goodman and Billy Crystal as the original voice actors for Sully and Mike aided the nostalgia of the piece and makes the series feel like a genuine passion project as opposed to a cheap knock-off cash-grab. Monsters Inc was always playing in the background for so many of us throughout our childhoods; those voices are distinct and unforgettable. New characters Tyler Tuskmon and Val Little are super fun too and merge in well with the iconic original characters. The animation is beautiful, as expected for Pixar, but what I love in particular about Monsters Inc and Monsters at Work is how unique, individual and creative all of the characters look. 

There are so many irrelevant and pointless spin-offs out there (and perhaps I am overstretching or being naive and this is a cash-grab) but for me, Monsters at Work feels pertinent to the current moment. Everything is changing so rapidly – 2020 to 2021 has been a year for adaptation. As a drama student, having to produce online performances did make me feel a bit like a monster trying to make someone laugh. Old college acquaintances Tylor and Val break the fourth wall with their discussions on student debt and the now irrelevance of Tylor’s degree; how they have ended up in the same place despite Val dropping out and Tylor graduating top of his class. This encapsulated the sense of randomness in post-graduate life. Unlike a grade or a mark, no real-world outcomes can be guaranteed, it is all about timing. 

The short length of the episodes feels right; this is a cosy series cut into bite-size chunks to enjoy when you have a little spare time. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Monsters Inc who need a pure nostalgia kick with no artificial nasties!

A promotional image for Monsters at Work. The background is white. Tyler Tuskman, a tall purple monster with large horns, is wearing the Valedictorian ribbon and graduation cap and holding his degree certificate. He looks very proud and slightly bemused. His mother is smiling at him and clutching a tissue in her hands.
Tylor Tuskman, about to embark on a career as a comedian. Good luck to you buddy

Wayne

Monsters At Work needs to be closed for maintenance, otherwise it’ll be permanent lights out for Monstropolis. 

The show, like the employees of Monsters Inc, seems to be struggling to find its feet. I’m not sure whether it’s aimed at the now grown-up audiences of the movies that spawned it or their kids. 

The humour is quite dark and adult at times (just how many of the MIFT members have died horrible deaths?) and then switches to drawn-out, juvenile jokes or stale slapstick. Other times it’s just a bit, well, weird. 

There is a slight Community feel to it (albeit not as good). The characters of devious Duncan and overly peppy Val remind me of The Office’s Dwight and Kelly (the latter played in both cases by Mindy Kaling).

The pacing is very off, especially if this show is actually aimed at kids. What plot there is won’t hold their attention for long, which alienates a younger audience. Unfortunately, the set pieces are similarly few and far between so I don’t see older children enjoying it either. 

The everyday employee as the unsung hero is a tired trope. In the era of constant company rebrands and the impermanence of the modern employment market there’s still laughs to be had at workplace culture’s expense (if the show is targeting adults). The writers seem as ill-equipped to this task as Monsters Inc’s scarers turned jokesters are to theirs. 

It’s mainly left to the stellar voice cast to try to make the jokes work. Even John Goodman and Billy Crystal (recreating their roles as Sully and Mike) struggle.

As somebody who bypassed university for vocational training, I did like the subtle suggestion that everybody has something to offer the world no matter their background and that life has a habit of putting you where you need to be. It’ll be interesting to see if that comes to the fore in future episodes.

I also liked that MIFT boss Fritz (voiced by The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler) looked like Al, the owner of Arnold’s Diner in Happy Days.

Rather than invoking a sense of nostalgia for the first film (I didn’t like Monsters University), the first episode felt dated, right from the awful opening credits. It also looked a little cheap, the result of Pixar’s lack of involvement in its production. It had a ‘direct to DVD spin-off’ vibe, not the ‘big-screen on the small-screen’ feel Disney+ subscribers have come to expect. 

I know it’s just the first episode. New setting, new characters, etc. Lead character Tylor’s predictable journey of going from dismissing rather than embracing his new, weird work family’s eccentricities has only begun. But there’s nothing to make you root for him. The other characters are, ironically, one dimensional and don’t endear themselves to you. That’s a problem.

I really wanted to like this but sadly it lacked the charm or the fun of Monsters Inc. Monsters At Work? More Monsters A Work in Progress.

A close up image of Roza's face. Roza is a green monster, similar in shape to a slug. She is wearing a knitted green jumper and has pink lipstick on. Her hair is fabulously quiffed and her eyes radiate suspicion.
Loving the new look Roze

Daisy

Picture this, a five-year-old Daisy walks into a cinema, clutching a tube of rolos and peering with hungry eyes into the enormous (it was normal sized…I was just small) screening room. From the moment the 2D title sequence to Monsters Inc commenced I was in love. And so began the affection of one of my favourite films of all time. If I’m ill? Monsters Inc. If I’m sad? Monsters Inc. My birthday film of choice for years? MONSTERS INC. As you can imagine, when the email came to review Monsters at Work I felt it was my duty to step up to the plate, as though I were simply born to write about my undeniable expertise (my mastermind topic perhaps?) and as I sat down this morning to watch the first episode of the series my younger self took over, excitement bubbled as I realised, I would once again see my old friends. 

I’d like to begin with the good. I was overjoyed to learn that some of the original cast would reprise their roles in the series. Most importantly, John Goodman and Billy Crystal would return as Mike and Sully. In my view, this was one of the more successful ways to bring us right back into the world of Monstropolis, allowing us to pick up where the original film left off. This also extends to the return of fan favourites such as poor George (23-19!! I shouted WE HAVE A 23-19), Smitty and Needleman the teenage door-shredding duo and Celia, Mike’s partner and now (spoilers!) Laugh Floor Supervisor. Of course, this successfully kicks us right in the nostalgia guts but for me, this is also part of where the problems start. 

Perhaps if I had just watched Monsters Inc and Monsters University there would have been a better introduction to this new story, but I thought it all seemed a little rushed. To me, this episode could have been solely dedicated to the new standing order of the company, with Mike and Sully taking over and the problems they now faced with sourcing laughter as a way to power their city. The jumping between the old story and the new, with fresh graduate Tylor Tuskmon trying to navigate his first working day after coming top of his scaring classes at Monsters University seemed disjointed and clunky. This paired with juggling the dark workplace anxiety humour (mentions of college debt and specialising for years only for innovation to make your skills obsolete) and child friendly quips stretched this episode’s relatability to too many audiences and therefore it honestly just felt a bit all over the place. 

The greatest sin for me here is some of the world building erasure. Details really do go a long way so when Tylor had almost no reaction to seeing Sully and Mike, monsters that he had probably idolised for years I was a little disappointed. Equally, when Tylor accidentally lets a human child walk through the door into the newly coined Laugh Floor, I was shocked when it was resolved in what felt like less than a minute…this all takes place right after the events of the original film and remember when Boo came through the door? I mean that was a big deal! 

Although I was left a little wanting, I am glad that the people of Pixar are taking the story further and developing new levels and branches of the Monster world. Most importantly, there were moments I genuinely smiled and laughed at, moments that made me remember the joy I felt sitting in that big seat in the cinema with eyes that glistened in the light of the big screen, and maybe that’s all you can really ask for in a first episode.

Watch Monsters at Work on Disney+ now with a standard subscription.

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