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Henry Selick's first feature, "The Nightmare Before Christmas", was a modern
classic. His next, "James and the Giant Peach", had most of the things that
made "Nightmare" great - heavily diluted. One thing that weakened Selick's
second movie was his decision to begin and end with live action footage,
when the glory of both "Nightmare" and "Peach" lay in skilful, sharp,
gorgeous stop-motion animation.
In "Monkeybone" Selick has watered the original batch of Nightmare juice still more (note to Selick: it's time to stop mining this lode - if you make a fourth feature, get a new look), with at least half of the footage lacking the visual trademarks that were probably the reason for making the film in the first place. There WAS some stop-motion footage thrown in, probably it's for old time's sake.
Still, this is a better, more memorable movie than Selick's last one, and certainly not nearly as bad as the miserable box-office returns and scathing reviews would lead you to believe. Yes, the film has its flaws, but if you were to judge from its reception you'd think it didn't have ANY virtues - which simply isn't true. There's Brendan Fraser, for a start. How can you not like Stu Miley, or the way Fraser plays him? (If you want to see Fraser's charm wasted, see "Bedazzled".) At one point Stu is forced to temporarily occupy another body (Chris Kattan), and we instantly transfer our affections to the new actor without giving the matter a second thought - which is more remarkable than it sounds, and shows that Fraser really had been WORKING to get us to like Stu.
Then there's Downtown, which you must admit, looks good. It's more of a visual hodgepodge than Selick's previous two worlds (the first of which owes its look largely to Tim Burton), partly because it was realised through an ill-chosen mixture of costume, CGI, stop-motion and set design ... our eyes must constantly adjust, yet the overall look is strong enough to make it worth the effort.
As for the film's flaws, well, they've been greatly exaggerated. I suppose there were (as several American critics complained) some bodily-function-based jokes, but I can't recall that many - certainly not as many or as witless as in "Shrek", and besides, at least some of the jokes in "Monkeybone" are actually funny. That's because they're character-based, and not solely reliant on the alleged shock value of someone suddenly farting or burping.
All that's really wrong with "Monkeybone" is that it lacks the brilliance a premise this bizarre demands. Yeah, well, big deal. So unlike Selick's first feature it's not a masterpiece. It's still an entertaining, competently made film with a good, solid story, more than inventive enough to justify having been made.
"Monkeybone" is one of the most visually stimulating movies I've seen in quite a while! Its run in theaters was too brief, which doesn't do a movie like this justice. The imagery was surreal and disturbing, in a nice sort of way. It was interesting to see the strange denizens of Downtown, the mythological characters, the dead celebrities and so many others. The animated Monkeybone keeps the action and the comedy at a fever pitch. It all may have been too much for the average moviegoer. But I say this weird kaleidoscope is worth a look. You won't believe your eyes!
I don't know how, but somehow Henry Selick got his hands on millions
dollars to make a movie that's going to appeal to only a small handful of
odd movie goers. Monkeybone is a visually delightful, darkly humorous, and
totally refreshing fantasy flick full of great special effects, likable
characters, and a style that mixes everything from "Brazil" and "Cool World"
to "Hellraiser" and "Eraserhead". It reminded me of "Dark City", "Freaked",
"Forbidden Zone" and the work of Sid and Marty Krofft, but at the same time
completely fresh and original.
"Monkeybone" does suffer from some flaws, but they seem like the manipulations of some behind-the-scenes tinkering to make the movie more "normal". The most visible scars occur when our hero Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser, who is quickly becoming a great comedic actor) first arrives in Monkeybone's nightmare land. These early scenes in the fantasy world seem rushed and poorly plotted. I hope there's a special edition DVD or something to see more stuff.
But the stuff that was left in is great. I couldn't believe what I was seeing sometimes- Stu's black and white surgery nightmare was one of the creepiest things I've seen on the big screen, and Bob Odenkirk appears as a organ-hungry doctor in scenes that seem to be taken right out of his HBO series "Mr. Show". Chris Kattan is outstanding, providing some hilarious, "Re-Animator"-style hi-jinx as "Organ Doner Stu", Dave Foley is also funny as Stu's manager, and Whoopie Goldberg is really good as Death, whose head explodes when she gets mad.
But the real stars here are the fantasy characters who inhabit the nightmare town. Like in "The Nightmare Before Christmas", the background characters are just as cool-looking and diverse as the leads. It's a shame that more time isn't spent dwelling in this world or in Death's land, and that most of the movie takes place in the "real" world.
Anyway, see this movie while you can- it'll probably be out of theaters by the time I finish writing thi- too late.
Let's face it...Monkeybone is definitely not the greatest movie ever made,
but it has it's points.
Stu's visit to "Downtown" while in his coma has some truly startling special effects and puppetry...there are many images and icons from popular culture that are transposed here with great comedic and nightmarish effect. The sequence in which Stu goes into the surrealist painting he himself made has an unsettling quality to it that I usually only feel with Dali or Bunuel.
Brendan Fraser is very adequate in this movie, and Chris Kattan's appearance was quite welcome, but Bridget Fonda's prodigious acting talents are wasted here.
Starting and ending with cartoons about the titular character 'Monkey
Bone' this is a hilarious and visually stunning film.
It is NOT a film for children so don't let the television adverts fool you into thinking that it is a delightful animated romp in the park for kids. The first cartoon sequence explains in graphic detail how the character of 'Monkey Bone' got his name; and it is not something that can be repeated in this forum.
Unfortunately, when I went to the matinée the audience was primarily children.
When Stu Miley (S Miley get it?) is tricked into staying in the 'Downunder' (the place where people in a coma go to) to provide nightmares for the denizens of 'Downunder' the film becomes much too frightening for children; but more visually elaborate and stimulating for adults.
The sound track starts out strong and only gets better.
Brendan Fraser is wonderful as Stu the comic book author who has a very dark side to him. Bridget Fonda is underutilized as Dr Julie McElroy the sweet and good-natured girlfriend of Stu. Megan Mullally as Kimmy, Stu's sister who wants to pull the plug on Stu (though it is never real clear why) essentially reprises her role as 'Karen' from the television show 'Will and Grace' but she is always a delight to watch.
Rose McGowan ('Scream') is a visual treat as Kitty the lone citizen of 'Downunder' that is willing to assist Stu in returning to the real world. Whoopi Goldberg is fabulous as Death just the right amount of sly wickedness that you would expect of an embodied death.
But Chris Kattan does a real star turn as the Organ Doner his physical comedy and outrageous antics as a recently deceased gymnast are truly riotous and quite different from the characters he has played in past films or currently plays on Saturday Night Live it is worth seeing this film just for his performance.
The plot is actually fairly complicated and the graphics and visual style are brilliant and mind-blowing; but again, this is not a film for children. However, most adults that can see the possibility of the humour that might actually lie in death will certainly get a kick out of it.
I have recently viewed Monkeybone on VHS and DVD. I was happy to see Hollywood take artistic chances in a big budget film. Henry Selick is to be congratulated on getting most of his vision on screen. The DVD showed what it could have been if fully realised. The cast was excellent with two bravura performances by Brendan Fraser and Chris Kattan.They cemented the film into a wonderfully dark comic piece.This is a difficult balance to develop and maintain. The TOWNTOWN sets were very suggestive and multilayered as our subconscience is as well.More would have been even better. This reminded me of the Salvador Dali sets created for Alfred Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND. There,too, the producer,David O.Selznick, got cold feet in not using all the sets which would have made the film a landmark piece.Again,afraid what audiences will accept.Please continue in breaking new ground. Thank you.
An endearing young nebbish named Stu (Brendan Fraser) is a cartoonist whose main creation is the personification (or, if you will, the simianization) of his libido. The ornery Monkeybone represents all of Stu's repressed feelings, you see. This is not uncommon among cartoonists or comic-book artists (or, for that matter, any artist); the product on the page is often the result of the demons within the artist's tortured soul. Anyway, Stu has a lovely girlfriend named Julie (Bridget Fonda), who just happens to be a doctor. Monkeybone's about to hit big, and Stu's friend/agent (David Foley) is trying his damnedest to merchandise the hell out of the uncontrollable penis with legs. (There's a not-so-subtle symbolism at work here, of course; Stu represses his emotions, including all sexual feelings, and releases them only in the form of Monkeybone on the page.) The day that deals for the commercialization of Monkeybone (reluctantly by Stu, of course) are made, tragedy strikes. A freak car accident leaves Stu in a coma, although somehow his girlfriend escapes unharmed. So there he is, lying in a hospital bed. Trust me, folks, there's comedy afoot here. We're only now getting to it. While clinically dead, Stu finds himself in Hell. Everyone down there knows him, because he's suffered through nightmares for many, many years (and they've served to inspire him in his artistry, too). In 1991, there was a movie called Cool World that covered some of the same ground. In that film, cartoonist Gabriel Byrne ran into all of his old creations - in this one, Stu finds that the denizens down there have been audience to his nightmares since they began, and they've been counting on him to churn out more. Keeps 'em alive, apparently. Oh, but just to complicate things, Julie the doc has found out what causes nightmares. Actually, I guess that actually makes things nice and simple, not more complex. What's worse, down in Hell (actually, an offshoot of Hell called "Downtown"), Monkeybone is quite the center of attention, and even has a standup act that humiliates the reserved and introverted Stu. The movie really consists of two main parts: Stu down in Hell (although not quite dead yet in real life), trying to find a way back up; and Stu back on terra firma, trying to Save The Day. What connects the two parts is that the nefarious Monkeybone, who's ostensibly been helping Stu to get an "exit pass" has actually schemed to return to the land of the living himself - in Stu's body. So that's where the hijinks really begin; at least, that was the plan. Once Monkeybone gets back up there, things seem to fall into a familiar plotline, which is a shame. There are many scenes down in the underworld that are positively funny, including Whoopi Goldberg as the Lord of the Dead. Oh, and some good bits with Grim Reaper recruits. And the sets! VERY good, fascinating stuff. If you're a fan of scenes, how things look - set design, set decoration, the whole bit - then this movie has oodles of eye candy. It's very well designed. And here's a bit of praise for someone I thought I'd never give it to: Chris Kattan. See, after Monkeybone returns to Earth in Stu's body, Stu has to find a way back up there himself. He's sent back in the body of a gymnast who was just killed in a car wreck (broken neck). The scenes of Stu waking up on the dissection table then being pursued by a mob of angry pathology doctors anxious to get his organs (which, of course, were supposed to be donated) are priceless, as is the bit of how Stu quickly copes with his broken-neck problem. There's a lot to look at here, and although the characters themselves are rather cardboard (and Fraser himself, while amiable, might be a little miscast), I think this was an overlooked movie. It has everything Cool World had back in 1991, except it also has (pardon the pun) a soul. This one made you like Stu and root for him, which is (of course) essential to any silly comedy. This one's just a silly comedy with some bite to it.
MONKEYBONE / (2001) *** (out of four)
By Blake French:
"Monkeybone" takes us on an energetic and lively roller-coaster ride through the bizarre mind of a troubled cartoonist trapped inside a nightmare of his vary own imagination. The film is somewhat bad in its storytelling ability, but the filmmaking and creative juices save this otherwise preposterous picture. Henry Selick, the genius behind similar movies like "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach," once again uses a variety of eye-popping, indulgent gimmickry to provide a delight for the senses. Model puppets, elaborate set designs, computer animation, stop-action photography, claymation, convincing and complex makeup, far out costumes and even some nifty voice effects preside the entertainment of "Monkey Bone." Selick creates a world so full of energy and inventive characters that it justifies the movie's existence.
Brendan Fraser makes another fool of himself as Stu Miley, a modest cartoonist who finally achieves success and does not know what to do with it. His long time girlfriend, Julie (Bridget Fonda), comforts, loves him and is ecstatic when Stu's cartoon primate creation, Monkeybone, a wisecracking and obscene libido portraiture, becomes a national television show. His manager wants to market the franchise big time, but Stu wants his simple life to stay simple with one major change: he wants to marry Julie.
Before he has a chance to propose, a car accident leaves Stu in a coma and his spirit plunged into a weird, subconscious world called Downtown, a waiting place while a person is between life and death. The carnival-like realm inhabits a variety of unusual characters, like Kitty (Rose McGowan from "Jawbreaker") an attractive waitress dressed in a feline furnish, Hypnos (Giancarlo Esposito) the half-man, half-goat ruler of Downtown, Death (Whoopi Goldberg) the cynical head honcho who determines the visitor's fate, and even the concoction of his own imagination-the aggravating nuisance himself: Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro).
Back on planet earth, Julie struggles to keep Stu's fanatic sister (Megan Mullally) from pulling his plug. Stu conceives a plan to escape Downtown by stealing an exit pass from none other than Death herself. He tries, gets the pass, but Monkeybone betrays his crafty creator and takes it for himself. Now inhabiting the body of Stu, Monkeybone is free to wreak havoc on Stu's lifestyle. While Stu himself possesses the body of a dead gymnast (Chris Kattan from "House on Haunted Hill") to save what is left of his relationship with Julie.
The scenes depicting Stu's nightmare reality are absolutely extraordinary. The artful sets, special effects, costumes, animation, and makeup are some of the most intricate and tasty examples of effective eye-candy. It's like we've entered an imaginative dreamscape of zany and entertaining characters. Everyone involved feels alive and inexhaustible, especially Brendan Fraser in a very effective performance. Monkeybone himself is quite annoying-but in a fun kind of way. The involving and fresh atmosphere make this world a memorable movie experience.
There are several hilarious sequences, one involving a dog's nightmare where several of his feline nemeses secure him and prepare to detach his manhood, and another when a walking organ donor loses his guts during a fight sequence. By now you are probably realizing, despite the cartoon qualities, this movie is not intended for small children. "Monkeybone" contains all sorts of sexual innuendoes, horrific concepts, and suggestive situations. During the screening I attended, a woman instructed her three young children to leave the theater. However, the movie is clearly too goofy and comical for serious, mature audiences-so what is the target audience?
"Monkeybone" provides enough positives to outweigh the negatives. The production is worth a watch to experience some of the dazzling images-but I would not see it again for free.
Henry Selick is a very talented man. He proved this talent when he
directed "A Nightmare Before Christmas" (It's a shame so many fans of
that movie just assume Tim Burton directed it and ignore Selick's
achievement.) and made great use of his team of talented animators to
bring Burton's original idea to life. Selick once again proved himself
a good director with the stunted but visually stunning (And still
somewhat enjoyable) adaptation of "James & The Giant Peach." Recently,
Selick did yet another fantastic piece of cinema with "Coraline;" but
in-between James & The Giant Peach and Coraline... there was
Something tells me Selick regrets this one. Monkeybone is a film in which Selick sells himself short. His talents are on display in several portions of the film, and yet some portions are clumsily directed. Yet even if the whole film had been as visually impressive as his other works and as tightly directed, the movie would still fail with the script it is given. I have not read the graphic novel "Dark Town," so maybe I should cut the script-writers some slack and blame whoever wrote "Dark Town" for inspiring this lazy, immature, and often annoying script.
The film follows animator Stu Miley, creator of a popular animated show called "Monkeybone," about a mischievous and perverted monkey that lives inside a timid students backpack. Stu gets in a car accident, and is sent into a coma. He soon finds himself in an abstract and insane underworld where he meets Monkeybone, who promptly sets out to drive Stu (and the viewers) insane. Stu wants to return home, but is duped by a devil in pajamas named Hypno - who instead, sends Monkeybone into Stu's body.
The problem with Monkeybone is that the "humor" if you will, is immature and insulting. We are shown a Monkeybone cartoon early on, and it is cringe worthy. It baffles me how some people in the movie claim that the show is a children's cartoon as it is wildly inappropriate; and more-over, I don't know how any adult could laugh at such juvenile material. The cartoon focuses on how the Student is sexually attracted to his old teachers huge, sagging flaps of arm fat. He gets an erection, and Monkeybone (Who more or less is an anthropomorphic erection. Goody.) pops out and starts harassing the teacher while the student is humiliated for his quite visible erection. Funny? No? Well, get used to that kind of humor and trust me, it gets worse unless you REALLY like fart jokes.
It is a shame that so much talent has to be wasted here. Brendan Fraser is actually fairly likable as Stu Miley (However when Monkeybone takes over his body, he becomes annoying and only makes Monkeybone's character more annoying as well.) and Selick has once again brought on board tons of playful and creative visuals. Monkeybone is animated quite well using stop-motion, and arguably the best part of the whole picture is the underworld and its abstract, bizarre, and downright weird denizens. There are even a few jokes that work through these weird visuals, like the Grim-Reapers mode of transportation being a little tricycle or how the gate leading back to the real world is known as "The Great Emancipator" and fittingly, the exit appears as a giant Abraham Lincoln head. There is also a genuinely disturbing (Yet memorable) scene in which Stu is forced into one of the nightmares that he himself painted years ago, where Selick shows off yet another fantastic visual effect that only makes me wish the films script was redeemable.
However, when the film takes place in our world - it is clumsily directed and is made twice as painful to sit through due to the lack of any creative visuals. Monkeybone was already annoying in the underworld, but when he takes Stu's body - actor Brendan Fraser goes from likable to cringe worthy. The on-going shtick is that Monkeybone is still an animal, and acts like one and is hyper-active, perverted, and crude. One of the most insultingly idiotic scenes is when Monkeybone gets turned on by watching animals mate on The Discover Channel, and then we are forced to a 5 minute scene of him doing a bizarre sexual display in nothing but his underpants hooting like a monkey and doing a mix of dancing and animalistic moves. Barf. Oh, and did I mention he wants to give everyone nightmares by giving out monkey bone toys that fart nightmare gas? Yeah.
All in all this is bad - really, really bad. I would have given it a rating of 2 if it had not been for the fantastic visuals in the underworld, and one genuinely funny scene where Stu is in prison in the underworld and runs into the likes of Stephen King and Genghis Khan. That means this gets a 4. It's a shame because you can catch glimpses of Selick's talents, but the script is just too clumsy, offensive, and rude to be enjoyable.
After James and The Giant Peach and The Nightmare Christmas, Henry Selick left Burton's style of animation and tried to pursue his 'own' 'kid-friendly' career in film-making. Boy, that was a Mistake! Monkeybone is the worst piece of garbage ever put on film, the comic sucked (don't read it! For God's sake don't read it!) and the making a film with Branden Fraiser??!! Oh Christ, you know there's going to be trouble! Well, The film surely is rude and crude and I don't see how it's Kid-Friendly....The film really sucks, it doesn't deserve better and a desperate company like 20TH Century Fox picked this up and the Film Bombed! Take that, Henry Selick! For working as an animator for Disney and trying to direct Coraline you stupid bastard!!!! Anyway, the plot is thin and John what-his-name Redneck does an awful job as the voice of a Monkey, or sorry, Animated Monkey. That's right folks. Bridget Fonda can really do better than this. Well, Henry Selick this is what you get for taking your 'abilites' to make a big-budget film adapting a low-life's comic
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