As much fun as Monsters, Inc. is, there has always been an edge to this particular part of the Pixar universe. After all, what is Mike and Sulley’s story other than two dedicated employees realizing the company they sacrificed so much for was actually evil? In its own way, Monsters at Work continues this pointed capitalistic commentary. Disney+’s first Pixar series isn’t just about a new monster finding his place in the world. It’s a chilling examination of what happens to dreamers when the careers they’ve spent their entire lives pursuing are eliminated.
This disturbingly relevant take is told through the eyes of new monster Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman). By all accounts, Tylor is a scaring prodigy. In the first episode it’s revealed that Tylor broke Sulley’s (John Goodman) scaring record at Monsters University. Considering that scaring record was set when Mike and Sulley terrified a camp full of adults, that’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s one that’s rewarded almost instantly. Tylor is offered a job at Monsters, Inc. and allowed to leave college early to start his career. But it isn’t long before this dream turns into a sluggish, bureaucratic nightmare.
That’s because Tylor’s first day happens to be the first day of this company’s transition from Scare Power to Laugh Power — meaning directly after the end of Monsters, Inc. Though he’s new, we’ve seen Tylor before. Like Mike and Sulley before him, Tylor is a monster who has worked his entire life to become the absolute best scarer possible. He’s studied the latest scaring techniques, trained with the best professors, and has been supported by his family to pursue this singular goal. Yet overnight, all that work has been shoved out the window.
Obviously, this transition is happening for a good reason. If Monsters, Inc. taught us anything it’s that laughter is better than fear, both as a fictional energy source and as a way to command power in the world. But what’s remarkable is that we’re seeing this transition through the eyes of someone the most hurt by it. During a time in human history marked by growing automation and long-secure industries becoming obsolete, Monsters at Work examines the emotional cost of trying to adapt to a new profession on the fly.
In the two episodes provided to critics, Tylor manages to handle this transition decently. Though it’s obvious that he resents his job on the Facilities Team and dreads seeing his idols being retrained to become comedians, Tylor largely stays positive. He’s nice to the co-workers he doesn’t like, and he even auditions to become a funny monster. He’s trying. But underneath Tylor’s best attempts at fitting in there’s an undercurrent of sorrow. Here is a young man, new to the professional world. He hasn’t lived in the corruption Mike and Sulley spent the first movie fighting nor is he as established as them. He simply knows that the career he’s worked toward his entire life is dead; and now it’s sink or swim.
That may seem like a bleak premise for a children’s show, but it’s pretty on brand for this particular universe. At the beginning of Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley loved their jobs, a stadium where they were treated like rockstars. It wasn’t until meeting Boo that they realized their beloved company wasn’t the hero of this story, but the villain. And if dealing with the evils of energy companies in a capitalistic society seems bleak, that’s nothing compared to Monsters University.
This sequel movie reframes Mike’s origin story into a tragedy of sorts. Here is this ambitious young monster, someone who knows everything there is to know about scaring and is willing to work tirelessly to master this art. Yet no matter how hard Mike works, he fails. Mike’s ultimate goal of becoming a Scarer or even being acknowledged as a scary monster never happens. What’s left is a surprisingly nuanced story about how sometimes it’s necessary to give up on your dreams and shift your ambitions. Our favorite green ball of teeth will never be scary, but he is the perfect coach for his very scary pal.
Monsters at Work doesn’t feel nearly as polished as Monsters, Inc. or Monsters University. The animation feels a bit rushed and the jokes often fall flat. The latter is because the show rushes to its team setup too quickly, forcing the one-of-the-gang dynamic of the Facilities Team before we fully understand who the gang is. But when it comes to Tylor, the oddly introspective bones are there. Once again, Pixar is poking holes in your professional life, and it still hurts.
The first two episodes of Monsters at Work are now available on Disney+. New episodes will premiere on Wednesdays.
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