Artist Stu Miley met Dr. Julie McElroy when he checked into her sleep disorder clinic. There, she was able to turn his nightmarish imagination into the creative machine that produced his cartoon alter-ego, Monkeybone. Of course, Stu fell in love with her. And Monkeybone turned into a hit TV show. But what started out as sleep therapy has gotten out of control, and his agent’s get-rich-quick schemes are just the start.
On the night of the big Monkeybone premiere, Stu’s not much interested in enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. He has more important things on his mind than spin-off merchandise and autograph signings. He’s all set to propose to Julie, but before he gets to pop the question, a giant inflatable monkey takes control of his car and crashes it (don’t ask). Stu’s comatose body winds up in the hospital. His soul, on the other hand, takes a Tim Burton-esque roller coaster ride down the fast track to the place where nightmares come true. That’s where he meets Monkeybone, live and in person. “Downtown” is a holding area for souls on their way to the “Land of Death.” Hypnos, the god of sleep, rules this dark land whose strange and twisted occupants survive on humans’ dreams. Starving for more nightmare fodder, he cooks up a scheme to send Monkeybone’s soul back into Stu’s body to drum up more nightmares “up there.” Stu’s only option is to cheat death (twice) in order to foil Hypnos’ evil plan, get one more chance at life, and wed the woman he loves.
positive elements: Stu’s love for Julie is real. In fact, a Downtown resident remarks that he’s “the one true-hearted man [she’s] ever met.” It’s this love that enables Stu to slip from Death’s grasp. Also, Stu sets a great example by not letting fame go to his head. He doesn’t get caught up in the fortune that Monkeybone promises him, no matter how lucrative his agent’s plans seem to be. On a more intuitive level, Monkeybone also reveals the biblical truth that what resides in a man’s heart always ends up bubbling to the surface. That’s true for everyone, even those creating Hollywood “art.”
spiritual content: This film monkeys with all kinds of spiritual ideas including human ability to bargain with death. It never even implies that heaven and hell exist—just life, death, and a strange purgatory-like place in between. It’s clear in Monkeybone that what happens to us in life will come back to haunt us afterward, as evidenced by the “psychological baggage” Stu is required to pick up upon arrival in Downtown. It leaves the impression that everyone who dies winds up in the same place, the Land of Death, and that the only business of that land’s inhabitants is to play Grim Reaper and transport others from Life to Death. This hopeless picture of life after death explains why Stu would give anything to escape the grave and be reunited with Julie.
sexual content: A barrel full. The character Monkeybone is the embodiment of Stu’s libido, “born” out of a childhood experience in which he was uncontrollably and embarrassingly aroused by the flabby arms of his elementary school teacher. Throughout the film, “Monkeybone” is used both in reference to the cartoon monkey and to Stu’s sexual arousal.
Even when he’s not acting under the influence of his Monkeybone, Stu makes some bad choices, including living with Julie before he’s married to her. And when Monkeybone is in control, it gets worse. In Stu’s body, Monkeybone has both human and animal sexual appetites. So the Discovery Channel becomes animal porno. Literally. A foreplay scene with Julie is animalistic. And a “conversation” with a real ape at the sleep disorder lab hints at bestiality.
Several scenes show partial nudity (among other things, a streaker is shown from the rear) and imply more. Cameras linger on the emphasized cleavage of Kitty, a Downtown barmaid. Hypnos is shown lying in bed with a female conglomerate, part insect, part human. Later, Kitty seduces him to divert his attention from Stu’s escape. Obscured by a translucent door, moviegoers see Julie taking a shower. Crude references are made to both male and female sexual organs. Monkeybone can’t utter two sentences in a row without resorting to sexual humor and innuendo. Likewise, his infinitely manipulatable puppet body is used as a veritable sexual coat rack.
violent content: The car crash that leaves Stu comatose is briefly intense. One scene from the Monkeybone cartoon shows nails being driven into a child’s head. Stu has nightmares of himself undergoing various forms of bizarre torture. As Death, Whoopi Goldberg’s head explodes (a new one is then screwed on). Indeed, all manner of wacky violence resides in Downtown. On earth, doctors rip organs from a corpse, and they make light of selling the organs for huge profits. This extended “joke” is repeated throughout the last half of the movie, during which Stu “borrows” the dead body and proceeds to use its decomposing organs as ammunition against Monkeybone in an extended battle for his body. The two rage against each other high above the ground as the they dangle (and then fall) from a parade-sized Monkeybone balloon.
crude or profane language: About a dozen mild profanities, one s-word and several inappropriate use of God’s name.
drug and alcohol content: Downtown looks like one big club scene, with many characters sipping eternal cocktails. Julie offers the Monkeybone-possessed Stu champagne, which he guzzles. Stu’s sister Kimmy smokes a cigarette in the hospital; a Downtown creature puffs on a huge cigar.
other negative elements: Stu and his sister, Kimmy, made a family pact that they would not allow each other to be kept alive by machines. So Kimmy’s decision to “pull the plug” on Stu is in keeping with her promise. Still, she’s overly flippant about his impending death. The doctors’ off the wall behavior over the subject of organ donations is grotesque and disrespectful.
Perhaps most disturbing is the final “solution” to Stu’s woes. Before Death releases him for the last time, she puts Monkeybone back in Stu’s head, “where he belongs.” And she tells Stu, “On your own, you’re a tad vanilla. I didn’t want to send you back [to life] without him.” In other words, even though Monkeybone’s carnal passions are what nearly ruined Stu’s life, he “learns” that embracing those passions rather than denying them will help him to be at peace with himself. Ugh!
conclusion: Clever. And twisted. Monkeybone is a nightmarish concoction that includes a pinch of Nutty Professor II, smidges of Heaven Can Wait and What Dreams May Come, and a generous helping of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Imagination and creative energy—the kind that can drive an artist crazy—are showcased, mostly in their dark varieties. And that’s unfortunate. The makers of Monkeybone have certainly outdone themselves for twilight-zone artistry, but they’ve used the gripping sets and setups to send disingenuous messages about life after death, coupled with unsettling scenes of torture and rampant sexual humor.