Before watching the movie:
I always conflated this movie with Cool World because of the idea of an artist interacting with a cartoon reality. Until I reread my review of Cool World, I still thought it was also about creator and creation, but the artist only based his work on the already-existing alternate reality.
Also, this is definitely actually aimed at a PG-13 rating. And the animation is claymation, or CG pretending to be claymation, rather than Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped xeroxes.
After watching the movie:
Stu Miley’s popular comic strip about his childhood self constantly being embarrassed by his sidekick Monkeybone is picked up for a TV series, and while Stu doesn’t want to merchandise, the money from the show deal has made him secure enough to ask his girlfriend Julie to marry him. Only he gets in a car accident just before he can pop the question and is stuck in a coma. Not dead and not alive, Stu is stuck in Down Town, a place populated by nightmare creatures, Figments, and other imaginary entities. Hypnos, the God of Sleep, reminds Stu that he made a pact with his sister about life support, and he only has a matter of hours to steal an Exit Pass from Death and return to life. Of course, who better to help him do it than his old sidekick, Monkeybone?
The first act feels very rushed, but I’m not sure that’s so much an editing problem as the fact that the entire movie I thought I was getting was just the first act. It makes sense for it to be moving so quickly considering that it’s packing what a more conventional movie would tell in 90 minutes into only 30. Maybe an extra 10 to 15 could have helped, but it’s just an unorthodox rhythm to hit. It’s also just such a simple and less than great part that I’m not very eager to prolong it, but that could be fixed by exploring more.
This movie is mostly between Stu and Monkeybone, and while there are some great supporting characters, the movie completely rests on the actors playing the leads. Monkeybone is really annoying at first, but once introducing him is out of the way, he’s just a nearly inoffensive mischievous cartoon monkey. Brendan Fraser gives a terribly underrated performance in straight and comic modes, and then Chris Kattan awkwardly flops in near the end and yet he fits in perfectly.
I did not expect so much practical puppetry. Down Town is full of weirdness of all shapes and sizes, and while there is a lot of CG pretending to be stop motion, and maybe actual stop motion, there’s also loads of puppets. Considering that everything in Down Town and the Land of Death is a different page of Henry Selick’s sketchbook (the guy who made all of Tim Burton’s best movies so good), even background characters, it’s probably more cost effective to build the things, or at least it was in 2001. I wonder if Selick and Terry Gilliam could work together or if their styles are too similar to produce anything all that extraordinary by their combined dark whimsy.
This is two movies, one bad, joined at the hip. But the bad one is short and extra pretty, and neither would work without the other. Hopefully on a rewatch the earlier bit will feel more integrated and less gimmicky, but right now, the rest is only worth that part by being so excellent.
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