Judging from the first two episodes (one of which I viewed at the in-person Tribeca Film Festival premiere), Monsters at Work has some work to do. A spin-off from the excellent, Oscar-nominated Disney/Pixar collaboration Monsters, Inc. and its highly entertaining prequel, Monsters University, this is the first time we are presented this world from a central viewpoint other than Mike (Billy Crystal) or Sully (John Goodman). They are regulars on the show, along with other returning cast like Celia (Jennifer Tilly) and Roz (Bob Peterson), but our primary focus is on eager new recruit Tylor (Ben Feldman). He is over the moon when he gets his acceptance letter to become a scarer at Monsters, Incorporated. However, when Tylor arrives for his new employee orientation, it is clear that quite a few things have changed significantly within the company.
For starters, Mike and Sully are in charge now. During orientation, the trainer has to constantly interrupt the video. ‘We Scare Because We Care’ is no longer a thing—“we don’t scare anymore!” It is all laugh power now and bringing joy to children. The old CEO, Waternoose, is even name-dropped. The trainer quickly points out that he is not only problematic, but he is also “no longer with the company.” Scarers are out, jokesters are in. Where is Tylor’s place in a world where he can’t scare children, when all his life he has wanted to become a scarer? Is he destined to just become a coat rack?
The answer comes in the form of MIFT (Monsters, Inc. Facility Team), which is essentially a group of maintenance workers that serve as a surprising backbone to the goings-on at Monsters Incorporated. Tylor is initially reluctant to accept his place among its ranks, which includes several new fuzzy and strange characters voiced by Mindy Kaling and Henry Winkler, amongst others. The second episode, titled “Meet Mift,” primarily focuses on this new set of characters, and the familiar faces from the films take a backseat.
The first episode, “Welcome to Monsters, Incorporated” is full of throwback tidbits and references to the original Monsters Inc., and is entertaining enough, if lacking in emotional heft or depth. I actually laughed out loud when Roz’s sister, Rose, enters the fray. The two look exactly the same more or less. I spotted a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal in the room of one of the children, and I have no doubt there are several other cute Easter eggs to Disney lore that will be peppered throughout the episodes.
“Meet Mift” is less successful all around and gave me pause on the series as a whole, considering this was actually the one chosen to screen at Tribeca. It is perfectly serviceable as children’s entertainment, but I have come to hold very high expectations for Pixar properties. This marks the second Disney TV animated series based on a Pixar franchise, after Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which was fun albeit flawed. It has been 21 years since that 2000 series premiered, and yet Monsters at Work seems to carry over some of its mistakes. It doesn’t quite nail the tone of the movies, apart from some magical moments in the first episode, and the new cast of characters is lacking in personality and charm.
Some significant gripes aside, there is so much promise here. Out of any Pixar property, Monsters, Inc. is the most rife with possibilities. For years, I longed to see a sequel exploring the changes implemented at the end of the original film. Though the creators have already confirmed that Boo will not be making an appearance, Monsters at Work is by far the closest we have come to a full-fledged sequel. I will continue to watch the series when it debuts on Disney+, with the hopes that a few tweaks and improvements will elevate it above typical children’s programming and embrace everything we know and love about the Monsters, Inc. brand.
Monsters at Work laughs its way onto Disney+ on July 7th.