The creative team behind Monkeybone is amazing. It was directed by Henry Selick, the master of stop-motion animation who brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas. The screenplay is by Sam Hamm, who wrote Batman. Not counting Brendan Fraser, it stars an impressive group of comedic talent, including David Foley, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kattan, Megan Mullally (Will & Grace’s Karen) and John Turturro. The most amazing thing of all about Monkeybone, though, is that even with this incredibly talented group involved, it somehow managed to be a real stinker.
It’s hard to guess who the filmmakers were trying to entertain with this film about a comatose cartoonist named Stu (Fraser) whose body is taken over by Monkeybone, the primate character he created (voiced by Turturro). Many of the situations are adult-oriented, but the lame jokes and cartoon sound effects that accompany every bit of strained slapstick seem geared toward kids. It even misses with easy-to-please teenagers; the 15-year old boys next to me groaned at Fraser’s embarrassingly bad performance as the Monkeybone-possessed Stu.
Much of the action takes place in Downtown, which resembles a ghoulish Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Downtown (also called the City of Nightmares) is where all coma victims must wait until the fate of their bodies is determined. Most are eventually summoned by Death (Whoopi Goldberg), but occasionally someone will receive an “Exit Pass,” allowing them to return to their bodies on Earth. It is with such a pass that Monkeybone is able to escape and inhabit Stu’s body.
While the animated effects, sets and costumes are truly spectacular, the “jokes” are just plain awful: Stu’s last name is Miley, so the nametag on his jacket reads “S Miley”. Funny, huh? A major plot element involves flatulent stuffed toys used to distribute “nightmare juice” – if this sounds hilarious to you, then Monkeybone might hold some appeal. If not, you’ll quickly tire of the fact that humor is attempted by simply shouting every line.
Judging by the tortured performances of almost all involved, acting in this movie was as painful as watching it proves to be. David Foley and Megan Mullally are especially disappointing; his only apparent attempt at humor is a streaking scene, and she doesn’t even bother phoning in her performance. The only exception is Chris Kattan, who is hilarious in a brief role as a recently deceased gymnast whose body Stu borrows to pursue Monkeybone. However, it is apparent throughout that director Selick is much more adept with inanimate performers. Not counting Brendan Fraser.