Was I expecting too much from Monsters at Work?

When I realised my favourite amongst Pixar’s impressive array of works was getting its own spinoff series on Disney Plus, I was real excited. Both Monsters Inc. and Monsters University were amongst my favourite of all of the Pixar movies. And given Pixar’s track record, I had lofty hopes regarding their Mobsters at work sequel series.

After watching the first handful of episodes, I realise that maybe my expectations were a little too high reaching.

To begin with, it kind of goes without saying that this series would lack Pixar’s unique charm when it comes to the world they create, given that this isn’t a Pixar production at all. It comes from Disney’s television animation studio. You could be forgiven for being fooling considering the quality of animation on display throughout the series.

In terms of visuals the series doesn’t miss a beat and looks like is could be placed onto the end of the Monsters Inc. movie without missing a beat. However, while Disney’s Television should be commended for the visual quality of the show, it’s in the writing that the series really shows where it’s lacking in comparison to the more mature and universal themes of Pixar’s other recent works.

At it’s core, Monsters at Work is a workplace sitcom. Which probably doesn’t help its case in my eyes when it comes to the kind of television I consume. I don’t think I’ve watched and enjoyed a syndicated sitcom for a decade. Being this style of series, the kinds of stories it tells about the kinds of characters that appear in these kinds of shows lack the appeal of the more fleshed out source material.

The main focus of the series are on its new characters introduced for the series. The problem is that this cast feel like characters created and written for a children’s cartoon. A oxymoronic take if there was ever was one given what I’m talking about. But in general, the characters we’ve come to see in Pixar movies have some depth and complexity to them. An aspect of their character that makes them relatable and human in a way that makes us connect to them.

The characters of Monster at Work feel paper thin by comparison. The starring role of Tylor as the new employee at Monsters Inc. caught in a transitional period of a society at the worst possible time should really be a great story about what it’s like to grow up a star in school and learn that the adult world isn’t what they promised you. Instead he’s thrown into a basement with a bunch of clowns only to occasionally emerge to have moments of connection with what little we see of the recognisable movie characters per episode.

When Mike and Sully are on screen is when I’m the most invested in what’s going on, just because I love those characters. And the first episode of the series really puts you into a false sense of what’s to come. Set in the direct aftermath of of the original movie’s climax. We see Mike and Sully thrust into the role of leadership in Monsters Inc. and told to figure out how to incorporate laughs into solving the monster world’s continuing energy crisis.

It’s interesting to see the events pick up from the movie and even see Tylor show up as a top scaring prospect, only to have that dream snatched from him. But then he’s thrown into an office with a collection of caricatures. Which isn’t to say those kinds of characters can’t work, but they’d need to be propped up by a strong driven main character.

Which this show does not. Tylor is a pretty flat lead, he’s a sitcom lead. A hapless guy whose being lead around by the more charismatic, chaotic idiots surrounding him. And I’m counting Mike in that group. There isn’t really a heart to this series driving any of the characters forward, no passion, no stakes. It’s just high concept, screwball comedy. Which is really exemplified by the bowling episode and the introduction of Blue Mike.

What could have been a clever subversion of a very generic sitcom plot line ends up becoming that very thing by the time this episode is over. Included within is the introduction of Mike’s “rival” Gary; a character that screams like it should have been a continuation of the Mike getting overlooked gag from the original movies. But doesn’t end up being that at all. He’s just a character that looks exactly like Mike, but is blue.

It seems like a super lazy design choice to me. I have no idea if this character is going to come back or if he was made for the purposes of this single episode, but if the show isn’t going to make hand a lantern on the fact that these two look exactly the same, then I don’t see any reason for the character to look this way at all.

He’s just an antagonist that sits within a super generic sitcom plot where Tylor learns a lesson about not hurting the feelings of his work colleagues and working with their strengths rather than against them. Despite the fact those same colleagues are a bunch of idiots who consistently go out of their way to ignore everything he is trying to say and do. But then again, he isn’t much better considering he is disregarding their efforts pretty constantly as well.

In the end, this isn’t a Pixar product. But is adjacent to one and that really is cause for me to put some unfair expectations on this show. While the Monsters movies had some silly characters who were there for little other reason than to provide some yuks, it was all pinned down at its core by a character with a strong drive. Tylor Tuskman is a bit of a wet blanket of a character to me.

Sure, the serial format means he can’t pursue his goals as feverishly as he might have been able to in a move, but the change in format hasn’t been altered for the sake of the character. He just mills about and acts like the straight man to all of the wackiness that goes on around him. Which ultimately feels like so many other shows out there. The inclusion of familiar and beloved characters alone isn’t enough to break past that for me.

I’m not done with this series, but after watching four or five episodes I didn’t especially have a drive to continue watching it. Maybe I’ll come back to pick it up again towards the end and revisit this post and update my feelings. Or double down on them. With so much other stuff coming out on just Disney Plus alone though, chances are that this one had it’s chance and didn’t wow me enough for it to leave a real mark on my psyche.

Hey, maybe if I hear it actually focuses on growing the world rather than just wacky nonsense I’ll get back at it./ But then again, maybe that’s just further proof that Star Wars and the MCU have poisoned my brain.

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