‘Monsters at Work’ Continues Pixar’s Trend of Insightful Reviews in the Workplace
As much pleasure as Monsters Inc. is, there has always been a benefit to this particular part of the Pixar universe. After all, what is the story of Mike and Sulley other than two dedicated employees realizing that the company they sacrificed so much for was actually evil? In his way, Monsters at work continues this pointed capitalistic commentary. Disney + ‘s first Pixar series isn’t just about a new monster finding its way into the world. It’s a frightening examination of what happens to dreamers when the careers they have pursued all of their lives are wiped out.
This disturbingly relevant take is told through the eyes of new monster Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman). By all accounts, Tylor is a scary prodigy. In the first episode, it is revealed that Tylor broke Sulley (John Goodman) ‘s chilling record at Monsters University. Considering the chilling record was set when Mike and Sulley terrified a camp full of adults, that’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s an accomplishment that pays off almost instantly. Tylor was offered a job with Monsters, Inc. and was allowed to leave college early to begin his career. But it doesn’t take long before this dream turns into a slow bureaucratic nightmare.
That’s because Tylor’s first day just happens to be the first day of this business’s transition from Scare Power to Laugh Power, which is right after the end of Monsters Inc. Although 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 be the best scary he can be. He studied the latest scaring techniques, trained with the best teachers and was supported by his family to pursue this singular goal. Yet overnight, all of this work was pushed out the window.
Obviously, this transition is happening for good reason. Yes Monsters Inc. has taught us everything is that laughter is better than fear, both as a fictitious source of energy and as a means of controlling power in the world. But what’s remarkable is that we see this transition through the eyes of someone who is most hurt by it. At a time in human history marked by increasing automation and long-secure industries becoming obsolete, Monsters at work examines the emotional cost of trying to adjust to a new profession on the fly.
In the two episodes provided to critics, Tylor manages to manage this transition decently. While it’s obvious he doesn’t like his job on the installations team and dreads seeing his idols retraining into comedians, Tylor remains largely positive. He’s nice to coworkers he doesn’t like, and he even goes through auditions to become a funny freak. He tries. But beneath Tylor’s best attempts to fit in, there’s an underlying stream of grief. Here is a young man, new to the professional world. He didn’t live in the corruption that Mike and Sulley spent in the first fighting movie, and he’s not as established as them. He just knows that the career he worked on all his life is dead; and now it’s sink or swim.
It might sound like a dark premise for a kids’ show, but that’s enough about the brand for this particular universe. At the beginning of Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley loved their jobs, a stage where they were treated like rockstars. It wasn’t until they met Boo that they realized their beloved company wasn’t the hero of this story, but the villain. And if dealing with the misdeeds of energy companies in a capitalist society seems bleak, it is nothing compared to Monster University.
This sequel reframe Mike’s origin story into something of a tragedy. Here is this ambitious young monster, someone who knows all about fear and is willing to work tirelessly to master the art. Yet no matter how hard Mike works, he fails. Mike’s ultimate goal of becoming a Scarer or even being recognized as a spooky monster never happens. What remains is a surprisingly nuanced story about how it is sometimes necessary to let go of dreams and change ambitions. Our favorite green tooth ball will never be scary, but he’s the perfect trainer for his very scary pal.
Monsters at work doesn’t feel as polite as Monsters Inc. or Monster University. The animation seems a bit rushed and the jokes often fall flat. The latter is due to the show rushing too quickly into their squad setup, forcing the unique dynamics of the facilities team before they fully understand who the gang is. But when it comes to Tylor, the weirdly introspective bones are there. Again, Pixar is making holes in your business life, and it always hurts.
The first two episodes of Monsters at work are now available on Disney +. New episodes will air on Wednesday.