In spite of the near-absence of a theatrical market, 2020 was a phenomenal year for Pixar fans with Onward and Soul receiving critical acclaim. Disney entered 2021 on a high note with its latest animated feature, the pure and defying fantasy epic Raya and the Last Dragon, hitting screens at home and in theaters – marking a historic implementation of synchronized PVOD and theatrical releases for the company. And yet, audiences want more.
Almost two years after a Monsters Inc. spin-off series was reported to be in development, Disney announced that Monsters at Work will hit Disney+ this summer on July 7. The show is the next part of the company’s push to bolster their streaming platform with new stories and familiar faces, and will take up residence on the service alongside Marvel’s big-budget productions like Loki and Pixar’s own Dug Days later this year. As for Monsters, here’s what fans can expect beyond the first trailer.
Out with the Old, In with the New
In the wake of Monsters Inc. and the discovery of laugh power, this show seems to be heading down a path of addressing a major pivot in the monster world. The original film spent much of its time depicting the fallacy of monster society and the shortcomings of assumption. Ending on a major development to the monsters’ way of life (the discovery of laugh power), we can expect the direct consequences of this change at play in Monsters at Work. From old-time Scarers sticking hard fast to tradition and skeptical Monsters Incorporated employees, there is no shortage of conflict for the series to choose from.
The new protagonist at play, Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), is a talented Scarer fresh from MU finding himself caught in the middle of this major shift. At the 2019 D23 presentation for the show, producers Bobs Gannaway and Ferrell Barron teased the start of their story. “He shows up for work at Monsters Incorporated and his life gets turned upside down. He shows up the day they change to laugh power.”
In what can be presumed to be a story about adaptation and learning new skills, we will most likely see Tylor eventually find his place alongside the likes of Mike Wazowski as a successful worker on the Laugh Floor. Until he finds his comedic prowess, however, he “is gonna end up in a desk job on what [is called] the Monsters Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT).” The producers described it as a workplace sitcom, focusing on trivial, everyday comedy as we explore parts of Monsters Inc. both new and familiar.
From what has been released so far, Monsters at Work is set to incorporate a wide variety of new and returning characters and story elements. Fans can look forward to Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprising their roles as Wazowski and Sulley, joined in their return by some other favorites as well as newcomer characters.
An brief synopsis of the series announced some of its cast:
Starring alongside Feldman as part of the MIFT crew are Henry Winkler as Fritz, the scatterbrained boss; Lucas Neff as Duncan, an opportunistic plumber; and Alanna Ubach as Cutter, the officious rule follower. In addition to Crystal and Goodman, returning cast members from the original movies include John Ratzenberger as Yeti and Tylor’s dad, Bernard; Jennifer Tilly as Celia Mae; and Bob Peterson as Roze, twin sister to his original Monsters, Inc. character, Roz. Voicing additional characters are Stephen Stanton as Smitty and Needleman, the bumbling custodial team at Monsters, Inc., and Aisha Tyler as Tylor’s mom, Millie Tuskmon.
Mindy Kaling (The Office) is also going to appear, playing the role of Val Little, a close companion of Tylor’s. At one point, this character was expected to be voiced by The Last Jedi and Raya and the Last Dragon star Kelly Marie Tran. Despite their being no official statement on the casting change, many assume it’s another result of endless COVID-19 production delays.
To Monstropolis and Beyond
In returning to this beloved world, Monsters at Work presents to filmmakers the opportunity to reimagine and bring to life unused ideas and designs from the two previous films. At D23, producers displayed concept art conceived for Monsters Inc. given to them by director, and now Pixar’s chief creative officer, Pete Doctor as they worked on the show. “We’re getting to take some of these things and realize them now. We’re actually going back to some of the artwork they had and realizing some of the things that their story didn’t need.”
From studying beautiful, unactualized pieces of concept art for the original film and going on research trips to power plants, the development for Monsters at Work points to an expansive, immersive, and fully-realized world unlike what we’ve seen thus far in the Monsters franchise. Thanks to the drawn-out nature of the TV format, we’ll be able to see a much larger part of this world outside of Monsters, Inc. and the Laugh Floor than ever before.
In fleshing out the rest of Monstropolis, creators have found a thrilling challenge in designing “monster-fied yet familiar” surroundings. From the sock-themed arcade game “Sock Attack” and bat-shaped leaves, to reinforced buildings and Scarebucks Coughy, there’s detail in every crevice. At one point in the show, creators said characters will visit “Creepees Stadium” to watch a game of monster-fied baseball – complete with four bases and a three-pronged baseball bat.
Even within the Monsters Inc. facility, audiences will be treated to a number of new locations and departments. Early on, we will see Sulley and Mike’s new office, having assumed roles as CEO and Chief Executive Vice Deputy Administrative Director of Comedy Resources Management, respectively. The MIFT workplace is said to be the main setting of the show and will feature areas such as the machine shop, where door frames and other machinery are repaired. The Monsters Inc. Employee Center is also a new addition to the series, complete with a bowling alley.
To that point, producers mentioned at D23 that there will be a bowling episode. We can expect to see a variety of different monsters take their turn hurling a ball down the lane in their own monster-fied ways – undoubtedly a fun exercise for the show’s animators.
This may remind older, eagle-eyed fans of a tie-in game to the original film “Bowling for Screams” where Mike Wazowski is implied to be mistaken for a bowling ball and hurled down the lane by Sully. If CD-ROM games are fair play, there is a chance that audiences could be treated to references to other classic Monsters content like the Mike’s New Car short or the interactive Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Whether or not the bowling homage was intentional, it will be a welcome nod to Monsters Inc. stories from days gone by.
A New Production Team
Though the two previous Monsters productions have remained within the Pixar studio, Monsters at Work will be produced by Disney Television Animation, the same team behind animated series like Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb, and Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure for Disney’s multiple television networks. Disney Television Animation (DTVA) has a filmography primarily consisting of traditionally animated projects with a few exceptions for mostly younger audiences, making this the studio’s most ambitious CGI undertaking yet.
The previous full series collaboration between DTVA and Pixar was Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a 65-episode 2D-animated Toy Story spin-off that aired from 2000 to 2001. Later collaborations like the Cars Toons shorts were produced by both DTVA and Pixar, retaining the aesthetic of the Cars films. Creator and Executive Producer Bobs Gannaway has experience directing both 2D and CGI animation, with his most recent outing being Planes: Fire and Rescue, produced by his fellow Monsters at Work co-producer Ferrell Barron.
The Monsters franchise has shown surprising longevity that any young fan of the original could have only dreamed of; a prequel after twelve years and a sequel TV show after twenty is a rare feat. If the information released thus far is any indication, creators are on track to strike the right tone and balance for all ages.