Brendan Fraser and a stop-motion monkey! What could go wrong? Quite a lot! John takes a look at Monkeybone.
Sometime in the early 2000s, I was perusing a boot fair with a couple of friends. We used to go to find cheap DVDs. Sometimes we’d find cheap copies of region one DVD’s that contained better bonus content or uncut copies of films than what existed in the UK.
I can’t place the year exact year, but Hollywood actor Brendan Fraser had seen his fame and stardom rise thanks to the box office success of The Mummy, a film I enjoy immensely. He later starred in a remake of Bedazzled alongside Elizabeth Hurley before reprising his role of Rick O’Connell in The Mummy Returns. Not as good as the original but still a lot of fun.
So in my mind, Fraser was a safe bet when searching out for films. Back to the cold Sunday morning, a damp field filled with everyday folk trying to sell their unwanted belongings. It was here I discovered a region one copy of Monkeybone.
Starring Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda, the back of the case sounded intriguing, plus there were lots of deleted scenes, “making ofs” and a director’s commentary to satisfy my younger film nerd mind.
I only watched it once back then and quite randomly, I decided to dig it out and give it another go.
Slipping into a coma following a freakish accident, cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) finds himself in an incredible fantasy world known as Down Town. To return to reality, Stu has to outwit Death, herself (Whoopi Goldberg)… but one of the cartoonist’s own creations, Monkeybone, has come to life and is manically intent on destroying Stu’s plans to resume his life.
Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) is a cartoonist who has recently had success with an order of new animated episodes of his creation, Monkeybone. A character he created after he switched drawing hands after advice from Dr. Julie McElroy (Bridgette Fonda) from the sleep institute. This advice was to help him battle his recurring nightmares and she soon became his girlfriend.
At the announcement event, Stu’s manager, Herb (Dave Foley), is trying to convince him of all the marketing possibilities for Monkeybone. Herb talks lunch boxes, toys and more but Stu just wants to get home.
Once safely in his car with Julie, an unfortunate accident involving a huge inflatable Monkeybone puts Stu into a coma.
Stu, at first thinking he is dead, finds himself in a strange place called Downtown, filled with all sorts of weird characters, mythical creatures and figments of people’s imaginations, including Monkeybone.
In Downtown, people’s nightmares are screened for entertainment and it transpires that because of this, Stu is a bit of a celebrity in this realm.
Stu just wants to wake up and get back to Julie but there is only one way out of Downtown and that is with an exit pass from Death herself. After seeking advice from Hypnos, the god of sleep, Stu manages to steal an exit pass from Death. Unfortunately, Monkeybone double crosses Stu and then steals the exit pass before travelling back to the real world to inhabit Stu’s body.
Will Stu get out of Downtown and how will Monkeybone find the real world?
Classed as a black comedy, Monkeybone was anything but. I didn’t laugh once as I recall watching it now or all those years ago.
Brendan Fraser, what happened to him? One minute he’s riding high with the Mummy films and then he’s gone. Monkeybone is certainly one film that I think didn’t help his reputation.
I found him slightly unlikable as Stu but even more so when he’s supposedly inhabited by the form of Monkeybone. I’d also forgotten about his strange girl like scream which you’ll hear several times throughout the film.
Bridgett Fonda despite being one of the few that came out best from this film hardly features at all and has very little to do. The same could be said for Whoopi Golderberg who plays Death. A nice character, but not much screen time.
When Stu does manage to come back to the world of the living, it’s unfortunately in the dead body of an athlete played by Chris Kattan. Ignoring the terrible joke that despite waking up whilst his organs are being removed and running off, the doctors still give him chase, a gag that pulled me from the movie as it made no sense, the physical comedy of Kattan as an athlete running around with a broken neck was the film’s funniest moment for me.
There was even a cameo from Harry Knowles, the creator of the famous movie website, Ain’t It Cool News. However, if you read his review of this film, he wasn’t too impressed either.
Monkeybone himself and several other creatures were created for this film with the use of stop-motion technology and it worked very well. The director, Henry Selick, had previously directed The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, both of which were completely stop motion animated features.
Several of the life-size creatures were created using animatronics and body suits and I wonder if originally these were planned to be stop motion characters as well so they could’ve been more animated.
Watching the special features, Selick reveals there were more jokes and moments that the studio considered to be in bad taste and had to be removed including a joke that hints at incest and an another moment referring to Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades. Both of these moments are available as part of the DVD bonus content.
Apparently, the film suffered from a lot of studio intervention, as Selick mentions in some of the bonus content, and has suffered terribly because of this. But I wonder how much better, if any, the film would have been if the studio had left it alone? When the film opened in 2001, it only managed to take in $7 million of its $70 million budget!
There’s even a rumour that Selick was fired from the film halfway through production, but then why would he provide a commentary track for the DVD?
Watching the film again for this review has only reconfirmed that this was one of my blind buys that didn’t work out. Even if you’re a fan of Brendan Fraser or Henry Selick’s work, this is still a cautious rental at best.