First look Disney+ TV review: Monsters at Work
Ivan Radford | On 14, Jul 2021
Monsters, Inc is one of Pixar’s most inspired films. Set in a world where monsters magically enter bedrooms the world over to terrify kids and harvest their screams for energy, it’s a masterful piece of world-building, one that opens up intriguing avenues for the imagination – the finale of the film, which involves a dizzying maze of portal doors, is a jaw-dropping spectacle, for its ideas as much as its tension. Throw in a double act between John Goodman and Billy Crystal and you have a charming adventure that toys with fears and dreams in the same way that Toy Story played with toys.
What’s sad about the Monstersverse is that it’s a textbook example of how not to build on that already dazzling world-building. What followed, eventually, was a second film, which bewilderingly decided to take us back to Mike (Crystal) and Sully’s (Goodman) university days – because nothing says “family movie” like “frat boy campus comedy”. Equally bewildering is the latest Monsters-inspired sequel: Monsters at Work, an animated series for Disney+ that picks things up just after the first film – and turns a fun exploration of nightmares and friendship into a workplace sitcom.
We join the show as the Monstropolis scream factory of the movie is in the midst of changing its operations to harness the power of laughter instead of screams. Sully and Mike have been put in charge of the organisation, with Mike leading the charge in training scarers to be jokers.
Our hero, though, is newcomer Tylor (Ben Feldman), a top graduate from Monsters University who thought he would be a scarer, but instead finds himself placed on the Monsters, Inc Facilities Team (MIFT) – a ragtag group of outcast engineers. What ensues is surprisingly unsurprising, as Tylor has to go through an initiation ritual and Mike navigates burnout from overworking.
The cast are impressive, from Mindy Kaling as the enthuasitic, optimistic Val and Henry Winkler as the kindly veteran Fritz to Luca Neff’s slimy deputy Duncan and Alanna Ubach’s straightforward Cutter, but the script lacks invention in its gags as well as its plots, with the gaps between laughs too long to keep audiences hooked from one episode to the next. The ones that do pop up – “True friends never say goodbye… so goodbye,” quips Billy Crystal – feel like reminders of past glories.
The result isn’t a disaster, it’s just disappointingly unremarkable. While it might seem harsh to judge a TV spin-off against the original source material, the challenge Monsters at Work faces is not competing against other kids’ animated series, but in competing against itself – because it exists on a platform where Monsters, Inc is already available to re-watch at the click of a button. Chairman Bob Iger has spoken before about how Disney now looks to create things that will only add value to its franchises and not subtract from them. Monsters at Work has got a lot of work to do over the rest of its first season to move out of the subtract column.
Monsters at Work is available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.