Dir: Henry Selick. US. 2000. 92mins.
For all its manic energy and elaborately-designed fantasy elements, Monkeybone, director Henry Selick's live-action follow-up to his acclaimed animated outings The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach, feels disappointingly flat.
The film (based on the graphic novel Dark Town) appears to be aiming for a mix of sweet-natured romance and the kind of dark, twisted humour often conjured up by Selick's Nightmare Before Christmas collaborator Tim Burton. In the end, though, the romance fails to deliver much emotional involvement and the comedy is never sharp enough.
The effects are certainly eye-catching, but they do not add up to the convincing alternative reality that the film demands. Brendan Fraser's star power will not help much at the box office: Monkeybone may prove too weird for kids, too quirky for teens and neither witty nor dramatic enough for adults.
The title character is a randy, mischievous monkey dreamed up by mild-mannered cartoonist Stu Miley (Fraser). On the verge of reaping big rewards from his creation, Stu has a car crash and falls into a coma. While his medical researcher girlfriend Julie (Fonda) hunts for a way to revive his body, Stu's mind arrives in 'downtown', a carnivalesque nightmare world where coma victims must bide their time until they are either summoned by Death (Goldberg) or given an exit pass back to the waking world. When Monkeybone nabs Stu's pass and arrives in the real world in his creator's body, Stu has to find another way back to life so he can reclaim Julie's affections.
Selick and his team go to town on the Downtown sequences, creating a menagerie of dream figures and bringing Monkeybone himself to life through computer animation (John Turturro provides the voice). The ideas are suitably nightmarish, but there is a hokey quality to the effects that undermines the scariness.
More crucially, the sequences do not fully establish the antagonism between Stu and Monkeybone that drives the rest of the plot. Fraser gets the chance to display his physical comedy skills when Monkeybone invades Stu's body and turns the nice-guy artist into a horny, money-grabbing animal, but the script does not deliver enough funny lines to make it work.
Prod co: 20th Century Fox presents a 1492 production. Int'l dist: 20th Fox. Prods: Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe. Exec prods: Lata Ryan, Henry Selick, Sam Hamm, Chris Columbus. Scr: Hamm, based on the graphic novel. Dark Town by Kaja Blackley. Cinematographer: Andrew Dunn. Prod des: Bill Boes. Eds: Mark Warner, Jon Poll, Nicholas C Smith. Music: Anne Dudley. Main cast: Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Chris Kattan, Giancarlo Esposito, Rose McGowan, Whoopi Goldberg