The new movie from the people behind “James and the Giant Peach” and “A Nightmare Before Christmas” has some of the same trademark visual inventiveness, but this is no children’s story.
“Monkey Bone” is based on a “graphic novel” (i.e., upscale comic book), and the plot is something like “The Wizard of Oz” crossed with “Orpheus and Eurydice” by way of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Brendan Fraser plays Stu, a shy comic artist whose repressed emotions are acted out by his cartoon creation, Monkey Bone. After a celebration of his new cartoon television series, and on his way to propose to the girl he loves (Bridget Fonda as Julie), his car crashes. Julie is not injured, but Stu is in a coma. Stu’s sister Kimmy (“Will and Grace’s” Megan Mullally, playing pretty much the same role) wants to pull the plug.
What Kimmy and Julie don’t realize is that while Stu appears to be unconscious, he has really traveled into “Downtown” a place that literally lives on nightmares. Hypno, the god of sleep (Giancarlo Esposito, from the waist up), rules Downtown, but the one who decides which souls can leave, either to die or to be awakened, is Death herself (Whoopi Goldberg as a cross between The Wicked Witch of the West and the Wizard). Stu tries to get back home, but Monkey Bone steals his body. While everyone back on earth tries to get used to the new anything-but- repressed Stu, the real Stu has to find a way to get back, even if it is just long enough to tell Julie that he loves her.
This simple story is just an excuse for some extraordinary art direction and some adolescent humor. If you think that having Stu threaten to choke his monkey is wildly funny, then this is the movie for you. But if you enjoy seeing wildly fantastic images that look like Hieronymus Bosch on acid, then this is your movie, too. Fraser is first-rate both as Stu and as the Stu body with Monkey Bone inside, and Rose McGowan is delicious as a cat woman with very fetching whiskers. But this movie will primarily appeal to teen-agers who like the offbeat.
Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, especially for a PG-13 rating. In a cartoon at the very beginning we see the origin of Monkey Bone when a young Stu is humiliated by becoming aroused in class by his teacher’s saggy arms. There is some strong language and elaborate flatulence humor. We see documentary footage of monkeys mating that is brief but graphic. Comic injuries and violence and some brief gross scenes of internal organs may be upsetting to some viewers.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.”