by Gill Pringle

Monsters, Inc was an early hit for Pixar, grossing US$600 million at the global box office with its wacky premise of powering an entire city of monsters, Monstropolis, by children’s screams. The only problem with harnessing their screams is that the children themselves were toxic to the monsters, making this an extremely tricky business.

Writer-director Pete Docter’s deft story-telling skills ensured this became a classic for the ages, Mike and Sulley’s droll monster coupling as seamless as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau or Laurel & Hardy.

If Monsters, Inc fans ask where Mike and Sulley have been in the years since the 2001 original and its 2013 sequel, Monsters University, then the new Disney+ series makes the answer real simple by setting Monsters at Work the day after the Monsters, Inc power plant started harvesting the children’s laughter.

“I loved getting back into Mike. I don’t think he ever left. He’s pretty much my favourite character that I’ve ever played,” Billy Crystal tells us with genuine emotion although we’ve got to imagine that playing Harry to Meg Ryan’s Sally in When Harry Met Sally comes a pretty close second. “I had so much fun with John on the first two films. And to get a chance to team up again in such a beautiful, funny brand new series was so exciting for me.”

“Yeah, it’s a no brainer. The script so good, the animation of such high quality that it makes it a lot of fun,” agrees John Goodman.

The new series follows the story of Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), an eager young monster who graduated top of his class at Monsters University and always dreamed of becoming a Scarer until he lands a job at Monsters, Incorporated, and discovers that scaring is out, and laughter is in.

After Tylor is temporarily reassigned to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), he must work alongside a misfit bunch of mechanics while setting his sights on becoming a Jokester.

For Feldman, being cast among these Hollywood legends – even if only in the sound booth – was intimidating. “It was horrifying to join this cast,” he says referring to not only Crystal and Goodman but also the extended cast which includes Henry Winkler, Bonnie Hunt and John Ratzenberger, now joining us over zoom.

“I look up to everybody here and feel like I somehow crowbarred my way into a room that I don’t belong in. And I love this show so much. As for my character of Tylor, we both share the same Venn diagram – there’s a big middle and it’s just filled with nervous, stammering confusion and terror,” he says.

Joining him as a Monsters newbie is Mindy Kaling in the role of Val Little, “I just love Val. She’s so enthusiastic and earnest and pure. I normally play sociopaths, so that’s really nice,” she grins. “Also, I love visually how cute she is. Her colour palette is great. I love the pinks and the oranges which match her upbeat personality.”

Kaling recorded all her vocals while pregnant with her son Spencer, now nine months old. “It was wonderful to be doing this while I was six to nine months pregnant, and they made it so easy for me,” says the comedy star.

“Also, I’m excited that I can watch this with my daughter who is three years old now. We watched the first two Monsters movies together, so this is something so nice. Having spent the whole year in quarantine and having stared at every single door in my house, it’s fun to be in this world where your bedroom door could lead to this amazing place.”

Certainly, all the cast agree that the world is ready for a few monster laughs.

“I think the viewing audience in general is a little fatigued with darker, serious, and more grim or bleak stories, so this is an incredible time to bring laughter and comedy to unify everybody. I think the overall mission statement of this show could not be more perfect for the time that we’re in right now,” says Feldman.

Crystal agrees: “The timing could not be better for the family to all watch this together,” says the veteran actor who confesses how, having only watched just two episodes, he was surprised at the depth of this new story and new characters.

“I was really just moved about in a lot of ways. It’s actually quite emotional and really funny. All these new characters just breathe new life into the family of Monsters, Inc and Monsters University.”

Recording his vocals last year, Crystal notes, “It was such a strange process because of the pandemic. The only other person I saw was the sound mixer, Paul. I would pull up to the empty lot and it was like an episode of The Walking Dead. Nobody there. And then somebody greets you in a hazmat suit. You have to scrub down. I went to the studio and then Bobs and everybody else was on a big screen and we never saw each other,” he says, referring to writer/story developer Bobs Gannaway.

The Monsters universe has always been a family affair for Crystal. “When Monsters, Inc came out, my grandchildren didn’t really know what I did and frankly I was a little confused myself. And then one day, we were walking in a mall and paparazzi came out, taking pictures of me and they were freaked out and I had to explain to them what I did. And the first movie that they could see was Monsters, Inc because, you know, Harry And Sally, I could not really explain to them why she was screaming in the deli . . .

“So, then the grandkids would call the house looking for Mike. They didn’t want to talk to me, but they kept saying, ‘Hello, is Mike there?’ So, I’d say, ‘Oh, hold on, I’ll get him’. And then I had to talk like Mike for the next eight months or so. So, it’s so great to be able to revisit it and now that they’re older, their friends will watch it. And kids who are now adults will have their kids watch it. And that’s a great feeling.”

Having been involved with the Monsters, Inc world since its inception, Gannaway saw no way to continue the story without Crystal and Goodman on board. “From the beginning, my goal was to make sure the audience gets to go back to a place they love,” he says. “And it wouldn’t be the same place without Billy and John and if it didn’t look the same way, so I worked very hard on that. I really wanted to make sure you get to go back to a place you love and spend time with friends and then go places you haven’t seen. So, we’re going to return to the Rotunda and see Celia Mae again [Jennifer Tilly], and go back to the now laugh floor, as well as going further down underneath.”

Monsters at Work premieres Wednesday, July 7th on Disney+


Leave a Reply