While it’s got the original voice cast, Disney+ continues the story of the hit Pixar film to rudimentary but promising results.
TV shows based on hit movies are nothing new. However, programs like The Real Ghostbusters and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command had only the barest connection to their source material and had no chance of scoring any of the performers from the original features. In the age of interconnected cinematic narratives, though, the new Disney+ cartoon Monsters at Work, a sequel to Monsters Inc., goes in the opposite direction.
This is a TV show rooted deeply in the lore of a big-screen adventure with animation striving to maintain visual consistency between the productions. They even got John Goodman and Billy Crystal back to reprise their roles as James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski, respectively. We’re no longer in The Emperor’s New School territory.
Monsters at Works pick up from the ending of Monsters Inc., which saw the city of Monstropolis switching from scream-based energy technology to one fixated on laughs. What’s good news for human children is bad news for Tyler Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), who just graduated from Monsters University while majoring in the art of making youngsters scream. Now, his promised job as a scarer at Monsters Inc. is no more, leaving Tuskmon crushed.
To make matters worse, Tuskmon has now been tasked to work with the misfit maintenance monsters in the Monsters Inc. Facility Team (MIFT). Bubbly Val (Mindy Kaling) and dedicated Fritz (Henry Winkler) are enamored with a job that Tuskmon can’t get rid of soon enough. The first two episodes of Monsters at Work depict Tuskmon getting acquainted with his new co-workers as well as navigating how he can find a fulfilling life in the new status quo in this universe. Oh, and there are also a pair of subplots about how Sullivan and Wazowski are handling their new high-profile jobs at this company.
Monsters at Work is a step up in many respects from past TV shows based on hit animated Disney movies, including the fact that it’s debuting on Disney+ instead of running on Disney Channel. However, it’s no surprise that series developer Bobs Gannaway has extensive experience in the world of TV adaptations of Disney cartoons (namely Lilo and Stitch: The Series) since the writing feels akin to those classic programs. These shows are aimed squarely at youngsters, while the world of the original film is maintained but not expanded upon.
Rather than lending fresh new eyes to a world first established two decades ago, Gannaway and company play a Greatest Hits montage of Monsters Inc. references. This is especially apparent with fan-favorite character Roz getting replaced by a look-alike sister named Roze. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The only major new addition in the writing is a slew of groan-worthy monster-based puns that evoke the laziest quips from the Cars movies than anything else.
Gannaway and company play a Greatest Hits montage of Monsters Inc. references.
Monsters at Work isn’t all that imaginative, but to its credit, there are worse universes to revisit than the one established in Monsters Inc., especially in quick harmless 20-minute doses. As someone who grew up on the original film, it’s undeniably nice, if only on a surface level, to see Mike, Sully, and Celia (Jennifer Tilly) again. Best of all, though, is that there’s potential here for the newer characters. Right now, they’re too abrasive for their own good, with only Alanna Ubach’s Cutter and her recurring awe at how former MIFT workers perished leaving a memorable impact.
However, a hint of the series incorporating serialized storytelling with this gaggle of monsters at the end of the second episode suggests intriguing ways that broad caricatures could grow into something more. Plus, utilizing ongoing narratives would give Monsters at Work a chance to establish itself as different from your normal TV adaptation of a Disney cartoon. The seeds have been laid in these initial two episodes, perhaps they’ll blossom into something rich.
These first two episodes are told through animation that admirably tries to replicate Pixar-level visuals on a TV cartoon budget. The results aren’t bad, but trying so hard to emulate the look of the two Monsters movies just emphasizes the shortcomings in the animation in Monsters at Work. Limited facial expressions and constantly vacant halls through the Monsters Incorporated building serve as distracting reminders that you’re watching something unable to match its visual aspirations.
Ported over directly from the films, meanwhile, is the voice cast, with everyone from Jennifer Tilly to Alfred Molina returning from prior Monsters adventures and doing an admirable job of injecting life into their familiar performances. The best among the vocal newcomers is handily Ubach and a spirited turn from Kaling. It’s also amusing that Lucas Neff is around as the scheming MIFT worker Duncan. After getting jettisoned from the lead role in The Good Dinosaur, Neff finally gets to voice a character in a production that’s at least Pixar-adjacent!
Monsters at Work is only a bit above your average TV adaptation of a hit animated movie in terms of overall quality. That’s a pity, given the Pixar pedigree. But it’ll make youngsters laugh, and at least adults will have nothing to fear when they sit through it. If future episodes get bolder and more inventive about exploring this monstrous world, Monsters at Work could live up to its cinematic inspiration.
Monsters at Work is currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes dropping Wednesdays.