Monkeybone Review

Noel Megahey has reviewed the Region 2 release of Monkeybone. Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda star in a mixture of stop motion animation and live action from Henry Selick, the director of ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’.

Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) is a successful cartoonist, the creator of an adult animation series. On the one hand he is shy and retiring, but there is a darker side to his personality that is given form through his drawings, especially in the creation of his alter-ego, the rude and outrageous Monkeybone. Leaving the premiere of a successful presentation of the pilot of the series, he is involved in a car accident and falls into a coma where he is plunged into his nightmare subconscious, a land where his fevered imagination is given form.

Featuring a mix of stop-motion animation and live-action and coming from the director of the excellent The Nightmare Before Christmas, you would at least expect the animation in Monkeybone to be a lot better than it is here. ‘Downtown’, the land of Stu Miley’s nightmares is a carnival-style stage set populated by characters in unconvincing looking prosthetic masks and costumes, with the occasional stop motion animation character. Monkeybone himself as an animation character is a funny invention and is well characterised and voiced by John Turturro, but there isn’t enough use made of the character in the film, some of the best sequences eventually being cut for being “too rude”.

Brendan Fraser has shown himself capable of delivering a good performance in a quite a few effects driven films, but neither Fraser nor co-star Fonda seem entirely comfortable interacting with the animated characters here in Monkeybone. As the expression of Stu’s repressed sexuality, Monkeybone possesses the cartoonist in the latter half of the film, but Fraser fails to convince here as the human incarnation of an animation character. I imagine he would have fared better with a decent script, because this is basically where the film is most lacking.

This is a case where the film’s BBFC certificate is entirely appropriate since Monkeybone seems to be aimed specifically at a target audience of 12 year olds – and particularly undemanding ones at that. It promises to be crude, raunchy and outrageous but it is nothing of the sort. The ‘raunchiest’ scene showing a Monkeybone dream of Fraser chasing models in their underwear brings to mind Benny Hill, only it is not as funny. You can forgive a comedy failings in plot, characterisation and believability, but it is a major flaw if the film doesn’t make you laugh. The best scenes in the film are stolen by Saturday Night Live regular, Chris Kattan, playing a reanimated dead gymnast and showing the kind of comic energy that the rest of the film is sadly lacking.

PictureThere is nothing much wrong with the 1:85:1 anamorphic print here. The Downtown scenes are dark and colourful and effectively contrasted against the real-life scenes.

SoundDTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are provided. The DTS track is very good indeed – making good use of the surrounds without going overboard to impress. Anne Dudley’s score is fine, but at times it comes across as a poor pastiche of Danny Elfman, especially in the Downtown scenes, trying to re-capture the mood of the composer’s excellent score for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

ExtrasAudio commentary from director Henry SelickThe director provides a reasonably interesting commentary for the film. He comments on the differences between directing for animation and live action. Whereas in animation everything is very much storyboarded, precise and calculated, live-action requires quick decisions and reactions to unpredictable performances and circumstances. The director is also quite candid about the faults with the film and is not afraid to point out where he preferred his own ideas to the “film by committee” that was eventually made.

Extended scenes Eleven scenes are shown uncut. They are mostly finished scenes, non-anamorphic and of reasonably quality, that where trimmed for time to move the action along, or in some cases scenes that were excised because the studio executives thought they were in bad taste. In the commentaries provided the director gives his preference for the uncut scenes in most cases, but to be honest the film doesn’t lose anything from their omission.

Monkeybone GalleryAn extensive look at sketches and designs for the film. Some of the stills have a Red Monkey feature, a short behind-the-scenes video segment.

Monkeybone Secrets RevealedSeven making-of scenes are shown here, three of them with a few words of director commentary. The scenes show how the stop-motion elements were incorporated into scenes, and it is really quite amazing seeing what is involved. A few additional cut sequences can be found here.

There are also 3 TV spots and a Theatrical trailer, all presented in 4:3 and DVD-Rom Content included among the extras. There is one Hidden feature behind Miss Kitty on the Language Selection menu which is not worth looking out as it is only another 23 second feature on one of the prosthetics, similar to the ones found in the Monkeybone Gallery.

As a DVD, Monkeybone is a good value package – good anamorphic picture, DTS sound with a comprehensive and worthwhile selection of extras. However, the film is unclear about its target audience, being too tame for a gross-out comedy, yet too rude to appeal to younger children who might enjoy the animation characters. Suffering also from many compromises enforced by the studio executives, Monkeybone ends up failing to please anyone.


Updated: May 17, 2002

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