Monkeybone is a 2001 fantasy-comedy film directed by Henry Selick that combines live-action with stop-motion animation. Based on Kaja Blackley's graphic novel Dark Town, the film stars Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, and Whoopi Goldberg with Rose McGowan, David Foley, Giancarlo Esposito, Megan Mullally, Lisa Zane, Chris Kattan, and in an uncredited role, Thomas Haden Church. It's also the first film outside of Disney for Joe Ranft to work on.
Stu Miley is a disillusioned cartoonist whose comic strip features a rascal monkey named Monkeybone. Stu is in love with a sleep institute worker named Dr. Julie McElroy, who helped him deal with his terrible nightmares by changing his drawing hand. One night, Stu crashes his car on a ventilator's tubes after accidentally activating an inflatable Monkeybone toy and slips into a coma.
His spirit ends up in Down Town, a limbo-like carnival landscape populated by human beings, mythical creatures and figments of people's imaginations where nightmares are entertainment. In Down Town, Monkeybone is real. During that time, Stu befriends a catgirl named Miss Kitty. When Stu learns that his sister Kimmy is about to pull the plug on him, he asks Hypnos, God of Sleep, for advice. Hypnos tells Stu that to get back to the living, he has to infiltrate the Land of Death to steal an Exit Pass from Death which are given out to coma victims by Reapers giving them permission to leave Down Town and awaken from their coma. Stu successfully steals an Exit Pass, but Monkeybone steals it from him in turn and enters the Land of the Living in Stu's body through the Revive-O.
Hypnos plans to use Stu's body to get a chemical substance that Julie developed that gives people and animals nightmares: the Oneirix. Upon being sent to the institute by Hypnos upon reminding him of his mission, Monkeybone (in Stu's body) ends up successfully stealing the Oneirix, switching it with another juice. Monkeybone obtains the Oneirix and puts it inside stuffed monkey toys of himself (Monkeybone) so that those who touch them will be infected and given nightmares. With help from Miss Kitty, Stu escapes from his imprisonment. Monkeybone in Stu's body prepares a pinata for the Monkeybone farting dolls at the party. Meanwhile, Stu reveals Hypnos' plan to Death upon capture and convinces her to send him back for only an hour, only to find himself in the body of a dead athlete organ donor. As he flees the morgue attendants, Stu finds out about Monkeybone's planned party and heads there with the extractors still in pursuit. At the party, Stu's agent, Herb, exposes himself to the Oneirix in the Monkeybone doll and ends up seeing in the mirror that his clothes are coming to life. This causes Herb to run through the party naked, telling everyone that the clothes have come to life and turned evil. After that, Monkeybone in Stu's body tells everyone to forget about it as he brings down the Stu pinata containing the Monkeybone dolls. Stu uses Monkeybone's main characteristics from the comics to cause him to panic and escape. A chase ensues, culminating with Stu and Monkeybone battling each other while clinging to a giant Monkeybone balloon. The balloon is eventually shot down by a passing incompetent policeman and both Stu and Monkeybone fall to their deaths.
Back in the coma world, Stu and Monkeybone are falling toward Down Town where the residents cheer on their fight. Just then, all the rides stop and a giant robot emerges near the Revive-O causing everyone to flee the area. When Stu and Monkeybone are caught by it, the operator of the robot is revealed to be Death who seems quite cheerful despite the circumstances. Monkeybone tries to have Death let him go to the bathroom, but Death places Monkeybone back in Stu's head which is where he belongs. Death then tells Stu that she will send him back because she likes his comic strips and does not want them to stop just now and because she needs to make room for the guys from South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) as she heard that they are "dying to meet her". She then uses her robot to send Stu back to the living and he wakes up in his own body. Stu then proposes to Julie and they get married. An erratic Herb breaks the fourth wall urging the audience to take off their clothes and the film cuts to an animated sequence where cartoon characters strip their human disguises revealing monkeys underneath.
- Brendan Fraser as Stu Miley
- Bridget Fonda as Dr. Julie McElroy
- Chris Kattan as Organ Donor Stu
- Whoopi Goldberg as Death
- Ted Rooney as voice of Grim Reaper
- Rose McGowan as Miss Kitty
- Giancarlo Esposito as Hypnos
- John Turturro (voice) as Monkeybone
- David Foley as Herb
- Megan Mullally as Kimmy Miley
- Thomas Haden Church (uncredited) as Death's assistant
- Lisa Zane as Medusa
- Thomas Molloy as Arnold the Super Reaper
- Roger L. Jackson (voice) as Arnold the Super Reaper
- Jon Bruno as Stephen King
- Owen Masterson as Jack the Ripper
- Shawnee Free Jones as Lizzie Borden
- Jen Sung Outerbridge as Atilla the Hun
- Ilia Volok as Grigori Rasputin
- Claudette Mink as Typhoid Mary
- Bob Odenkirk as Morgue Surgeon
- Doug Jones as Yeti
- Jody St. Michael as Centaur
- Arturo Gil as Rat Guard
- Brian Steele as Jumbo the Elephant God
- Leif Tilden as Cyclops
- Adam Sandler as The Boogeyman
- Leslie Hedger as uncredited voice
- Johnny Depp as Edward SicssorHands
The comic book Dark Town, on which Monkeybone is based, was written by Kaja Blackley, illustrated by Vanessa Chong, and published by Mad Monkey Press.
The journey from comic to film was initiated by a fan of the comic and member of the San Francisco animation community (Tom "Bags" Sacchi/ChasingDragons Productions NYC) who, without Blackley's knowledge, passed a copy of Dark Town onto one of Selick's producers, Denise Rotina. Henry fell in love with the book and vigorously pursued the rights. In a letter to Kaja, he wrote: "I've never felt any project was closer to my sensibilities than this one."
The initial intention was to stay true to the source material, which can be seen in early designs from Selick's company, Twitching Image. However, as the project developed, it eventually evolved into Monkeybone.
- The painting supposedly drawn by Stu before undergoing therapy is very similar to The Birth by Mark Ryden. Much of the film's art bears a strong resemblance to that of Ryden—for example, the bust of Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator"; however Ryden is not credited.
- The opening sequence in which Stu first encounters Monkeybone is very similar to the work of Swedish cartoonist Magnus Carlsson. Carlsson animated the video clip Paranoid Android by Radiohead which starred his character Robin. The animation style and the themes from this sequence are strikingly similar to that of Carlsson.
- The film is plot-influenced by the films Cool World and Beetlejuice.
- Lots of critics mark similarity of Dark Town's design with Tim Burton's style.
- The film contains a large number of references to a parody religion called The Church of the SubGenius. In particular, the fictional fast-food chain "Burger God" was originally a SubGenius creation. Additionally, the repeated references to Yetis, and the scene in which Stu (whose body is possessed by Monkeybone) is struck in the head with a golf club by Hypnos in a dream sequence also echo recurring themes in the Church of the SubGenius.
- There is the long time suggestion that basic story elements were based on the Warsaw Poland Brothers song "Monkey Bone" which first officially debuted in 1997. Written by A. Poland & Hughens, though neither are credited.
The film received generally very poor reviews from critics, receiving a 20% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a consensus stating "Though original and full of bizarre visuals, Monkeybone is too shapeless a movie, with unengaging characters and random situations that fail to build up laughs." The film has a 40/100 rating on Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
Monkeybone became a huge flop at the box office; based on a budget of $75 million, the film grossed $5,411,999 domestically and $7,622,365 worldwide.
- Official website
- Monkeybone at the Internet Movie Database
- Monkeybone at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Monkeybone at AllRovi
- Monkeybone at Box Office Mojo
- Monkeybone at Rotten Tomatoes
- Monkeybone at Metacritic