INFESTATION: ANNECY ANIMATION FESTIVAL 2019: MONSTERS AT WORK
While a lot about of what Disney+ will have to offer is still a big enigma, during the Annecy Animation Festival the producers shared a sneak peek of some footage and secrets of one of their upcoming shows, Monsters at Work. The show will exclusively be on the streaming service and will be a direct sequel to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc..
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Boo, the toddler girl, who befriended Sulley in the original Pixar classic and has stolen the hearts of many, will not be on the show. The producer Bobs Gannaway made it clear they didn’t want to muddle any sacred ground and decided it would be better if the continuing relationship between little Boo and the monsters would be left to the imagination. When this was announced during the Q&A, a loud disappointed groan went through the room. But new stories equal new possibilities. Monsters at Work takes place a few years after Monsters Inc. After the Monsters discovered that laughter is much more powerful than screams and rebranded their power plant accordingly, scares are now being replaced by jokes; to quote the company slogan “It’s Laughter We Are After”.
However, the new executives of the company Mike and Sulley (still voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) aren’t the primary characters anymore. The new hero is Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), a young and inspired monster who leaves his parents’ workshop in order to join the power plant as a jokester. His father is very disappointed as he hoped that Tylor would run the family business. Sadly, Tylor’s dream to entertain the kids doesn’t come true but he still gets a job at the plant as a mechanic, along with his childhood friend Val Little (Kelly Marie Tran). Being the same monster species as Art from Monsters University, Val is a pair of two gigantic furry legs with tiny hands and a big sense of humor. Being adopted by a family of tiny monsters and having plenty of siblings to look out for made Val incredibly precise at doing tasks involving very small objects. Tylor and Val work off of each other like Oliver and Hardy and are always looking for ways to entertain each other.
Some other new characters included Cutter (Alanna Ubach), a crab-clawed female co-worker, Fritz (Henry Winkler), the big-nosed supervisor, and Duncan (Lucas Neff), the jerky, back-stabbing snail-like employee. Some of the other characters from the first movie also return including the two bubbling workers Smitty and Needleman (Stephen Stanton), the Yeti (John Ratzenberger) and Celia (Jennifer Tilly), Mike’s snake-haired love interest. In an interesting twist, Roz from the first movie is no longer working at the company and got replaced by Roze, her twin sister snail lady, only with pink hair. Most monsters suspect Roze is actually just Roz in disguise, but as a running gag, she constantly denies being the same person (both are voiced by Bob Peterson).
The first season will focus on Tylor trying to climb the company ladder to move to the “Laughing floor” and fulfilling his dream of becoming a Jokester, all while discovering some secrets about the plant. In one of the presented scenes, Tylor finds the ruins of the older power plant from the 1950s beneath the current one and starts a machine that turns on a mysterious and forgotten child’s door. We will discover the truth behind the mysterious original owner of the power plant but they didn’t go into too much detail. A lot of focus will be also centered around the tension between Tylor and his father, as their relationship was hinted as to be the heart of the show.
While it’s hard to judge the animation from the very little final footage we were shown, a lot of it recaptured the original look faithfully. While the show is not being made by Pixar, they shared a lot of their unused material, concepts, and designs for the TV show to use. Monstropolis looks pretty much like our human world, with some small alterations to give it a monstrous twist; leaves on trees will look like little bat wings or some building bricks will be shaped like claw marks. The creators promised to use a lot of the elements not only introduced in the original but from its prequel Monsters University. Tylor was originally going to have four hands but that element was removed, while his shape became more upright, always having his head in front of the body very reminiscent of French comedian Jacques Tati who was indeed used as a visual reference in the design.
The humor is also very much in the spirit of the Pixar brand of jokes and some of the timing made me think of the very first The Incredibles trailer, especially a slapstick bit with Sully helping out a road worker monster. Another scene shows one of the jokester-monsters trying to entertain a baby but accidentally sneezing and covering the wall of the human house in acid, which of course leads to Tylor and his team being summoned to fix the problem. The on-demand format will allow the show to tell one serialized story throughout the season with each episode having its own mini-arc at the same time.
While I would be lying if I said the new cast of characters captured my interest the same way Sulley and Mike did, they still seem like a likable bunch. I’m actually a tad surprised it took Disney this long to develop a show based on one of their Pixar properties. The closest we ever got was some Cars TV shorts and the Buzz Lightyear cartoon, with wasn’t really a continuation of Toy Story as so much as a very loose spin-off. At the same time, it’s understandable. For the most part, Pixar really has done their best to create unique and timeless movies and tried to keep them as pure as possible and this seems in this tradition. It also seems like it will continue their tradition of having more challenging messages and not sugarcoating some of their messages. With a lot of kids shows being about going to school and family life, there is something more adult about a show where the factory workplace is the setting and the heroes are pretty much the electricians and repair people, but if the creators can make that fun and engaging more power to them.