Dance Monsters is both overly familiar and refreshingly original. With a clever use of motion capture (and heavy, heavy editing post-filming) along with some lovely monster designs, there’s a real unique selling point here. However, it comes at the expense of creating a Frankenstein’s monster of other reality series we’ve seen a million times before. There’s a bit of X-Factor, a bit of Alter Ego, Masked Singer and America’s Got Talent all smushed together into one show. The ensuing result is something that’s absolutely fine to throw on in the background but unlikely to be a real money maker.
The premise is simple and brings together 15 contestants who are turned into CGI creatures via the magic of mo-cap to perform in front of audiences. Of course, given how janky motion capture actually is in real life, a lot of what’s here falls on the editing team to match up the dancers backstage with their digital avatars shown on-stage with audiences.
The result is clever to those at home, as it really feels like these monsters are actually out in force. In reality though, it’s probably just an empty stage these guys are reacting to. Once that illusion is broken, the audience reactions – complete with the usual gaggle of clapping, gasping and standing ovations – feels a bit… fake?
I don’t like using that word when it comes to a series like this because to be fair, some of the dancing is actually really impressive and the idea of giving confidence to those who wouldn’t otherwise have the guts to get on stage deserves praise all on its own. But even so, it would have been nice to see genuine reactions to these dance moves.
As the competition heats up, so does the pressure and each of the dancers do bring their A-game right the way through. The judges at the center of all this are no strangers to dancing either, with singer Ne-Yo, Ashley Banjo from Diversity and the most followed Viner on the now defunct Vine platform, Lele Pons, lending their opinions.
A show like this is screaming out for a Simon Cowell-esque “villain” to be the harsh voice of major criticism, something that we’ve seen work a treat across numerous different series. There’s a reason Strictly Come Dancing and America’s Got Talent are so popular and this is some of the reason why. With that in mind, it’s perhaps a little odd that Dance Monsters doesn’t have that, although to be fair I can appreciate this is probably done deliberately to keep this more uplifting and positive in tone.
The idea itself is quite good and the medley of different influences are likely to appeal to those who love their reality series. All the bells and whistles – from the stage design, camera work and general judge set-up (with the female(s) in the middle and men on the outside) are almost painfully similar to what we’ve seen since the 90’s.
Releasing this at the weekend and drip-feeding it across 3 weeks is a stroke of genius on Netflix’s part though, and you can tell they’re banking on this reeling in a good chunk of audience across the world to get into the groove.
While Dance Monsters doesn’t march to the beat of its own drum, the dancing itself is in-sync enough to what’s come before to make it a familiarly enjoyable series. It’s not perfect, and it is a bit rough around the edges, but there’s enough to this medley of influences to enjoy all the same.
Verdict - 6/10