“Monsters at Work” basically does for “Monsters, Inc.” what Marvel’s Disney+ series have done for its movies, creating a space to expand on situations and characters outside the confines of a major film. While not quite as grand in its ambitions, the Pixar show — two decades after the first movie — cleverly picks up during that transitional moment when laughs, not scares, take over in keeping the lights on.
The 2013 prequel “Monsters University” actually went back to the beginnings of Sully and Mike’s friendship when they were in college, leaving the messy aftermath of the first movie as a wide-open lane.
While Mike and Sully are back (again voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman), they’re wisely moved to the background, focusing on a new hire at Monsters Inc., Tylor Tuskmon (Ben Feldman), who had the unfortunate timing to get hired at Monsters, Inc. right before the marching orders changed, switching to eliciting children’s laughter as its main product, with Scarers replaced by Jokesters as its most celebrated employees.
Tylor thus finds himself scrounging to prove his worth, getting redirected from the one-time Scare Floor to MIFT, otherwise known as the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team. In what basically plays like an animated version of “The Office,” he’s surrounded by an eccentric and colorful (literally) group of coworkers, starting with his emotional boss (Henry Winkler) and a former high-school classmate (Mindy Kaling) who remembers him way better than he remembers her.
Tylor still dreams of bigger things, but he’s reluctant to hurt the feelings of this endearing group of misfits, outfitted with the kind of quirky trappings and visual flair audiences have come to expect from the “Monsters” franchise.
Developed by Bobs Gannaway, a Disney TV animation veteran whose credits include the “101 Dalmatians” series and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” the show doesn’t deliver belly laughs, but it nimbly slides into the “Monsters” timeline and cleverly builds on a particularly fertile Pixar concept.
What the show conspicuously lacks, versus the original, is a clear villain and the dollop of heart provide by the relationship between Sully and the human kid Boo. Instead, after setting up the premise the second episode mostly careens amiably from one perfunctory crisis to the next.
Still, “Monsters at Work” takes a well-established title and parlays that into a good deal of fun. For Disney+’s purposes in scaring up and retaining subscribers, that qualifies as more than enough to get the job done.
“Monsters at Work” premieres July 7 on Disney+.
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