Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Teenage Wasteland: Monkeybone

Wish I Had a Brendan Fraser in B&W Pajamas
When I was 19. Brendan Fraser in leather pants was about the sexiest thing in the world. It was just before I developed my super-crush on Ewan McGregor, and I unabashedly loved Monkeybone. It was a huge influence on my fashion in college; I have a black-and-white cocktail dress inspired by the one Fonda is wearing in the dream sequence at Hypno's and used to own a green velvet dressed modified to look like the one Rose McGowan wears in the prison break.  I also have a little plush Monkeybone in black-and-white pajamas.

I might be the only one, and in later watchings, I can only barely see why.

Yes, it's a weirdly messy film.  In the directory commentary, Selick reveals that a lot of key scenes got lost in editing and that Fox kept insisting it be raunchier, which explains the extended and awful Chris Kattan sequences (punctuated by Brendan Fraser in leather pants singing a version of "She's a Brick House" that tragically gets blander as I get older).  But the parts of it that are good, namely the Downtown sequences, are amazing.  They're creeply and playful and weird, which makes them even more creepy.  I've always loved Tex-Avery/Carnival visuals of Hell, Purgatory and the Afterlife, and Monkeybone had all of them.  The use of black and white, the lavish puppets are top knotch, but why the hell would anyone want to see puppets when they can see Chris Kattan playing essentially a rotting version of his Mango character? Oh that's right, no one.  Pandering to your audience never works, kids.
But in later viewings, I do see why the film didn't hold up with mainstream audiences.  It required a knowledge of what the product was supposed to look like, rather than what it did.  It required the viewer to look past Chris Kattan and see the beautiful visuals, the lovely Anne Dudley score (why they didn't get co-star Bridget Fonda's husband Danny Elfman to compose is beyond me)

I've always felt a little sorry for Henry Selick--he's the real director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and his talent for stop-motion is unmatched.  Burton was originally supposed to be part of Monkeybone, but dropped out and left Selick hanging, which might explain why Fox felt they could push him around.  Adding insult to injury, Burton went with another animation company on The Corpse Bride.  But then Henry Selick kicked his ass by returning with Coraline, so I guess he won the puppet wars in the end. 

Ultimately, Monkeybone suffers from the same style-over-substance that destroyed Cool World (another flop I've got a soft spot for) But there is some substance in there, buried deep underneath a lot of lameness.  It's a film that I'm better off not watching again, instead savoring what I remember it being rather than what it might actually be. 

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