Monsters vs. Aliens

When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Colbert, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon.

Monsters represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we know. Aliens represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we don’t. Sometimes it’s the devil we know that’s preferable.

It is Susan Murphy’s (Witherspoon) wedding day. She’s marrying local weathercaster Derek Dietl (Rudd), an egocentric sort with dreams of anchoring a network news desk. For now he has the weather in Modesto to contend with. Unfortunately, Susan’s big day is going to have a bit of a snag – she is struck by a meteorite which makes her glow – then it makes her grow. A fifty foot bride can give a groom second thoughts for sure.

She’s trundled off to a top secret facility where the government has been housing monsters for years, presided by deranged General W.R. Monger (Sutherland). Currently in captivity are the mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), who’s really a nice guy at heart even if he is a cockroach that can build a computer out of a few spare parts and a couple of pizza boxes. There’s also the Missing Link (Arnett), a sort of semi-amphibious relative of Hellboy’s Abe Sapien; the brainless amorphic gelatinous mass that is B.O.B. (Rogen) and a giant caterpillar named Insectosaurus.

Meanwhile, an alien wants the meteorite that made Susan into Ginormica. His name is Gallaxhar (Wilson) and he’s essentially a squid with a large forehead that reminded me of the comic book character Sinestro, and not in a good way. He sends a giant robot to retrieve the meteorite. The combined might of America’s armed forced aren’t enough to stop the robot, and the President (Colbert) is desperate. He needs a miracle. He needs…monsters.

In all honesty, some of the elements here smack at commercialism. The title screams high concept, and in some ways the monsters seem to be designed more for merchandising than to have any sort of meaningful personalities. Still, directors Letterman and Vernon are fortunate that their voice cast does a terrific job. Witherspoon is dandy as Susan, whose self-confidence takes a hit when her boyfriend dumps her and Rogen as the cheerfully mindless B.O.B. steals nearly every scene. Not everyone can fall in love with a Jell-o mold convincingly, but Rogen does it.

As with most kid movies, there are some life lessons to be found here, mostly having to do with being strange and different, and celebrating those unique things. Far from being scary, the monsters are just like us and are far more oppressed by us than we are by them. This isn’t a new point but at least is a valid one.

The script seems a bit rote to me. In recent years we’ve been besieged by computer animated features of varying quality. At the top of the food chain are the Pixar movies, which have grown more and more sophisticated – not only in terms of the technical aspect, but also in the stories being told – as the years have gone by. Other animation divisions, trying to cash in on the lucrative animated feature market owned by Disney for so long, have had some successes (such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Ice Age) but for the most part haven’t been able to capture that quality. Here, we’re a long ways off. While some of the jokes are legitimately funny, for the most part there is nothing here the average ten-year-old hasn’t seen many times before.

I need to make a comment on the 3D version. The movie is being released both in regular 2D and 3D versions. The 3D was made in the new True-3D process, which DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg has hailed as “the future of the movie business.” Maybe so, and in all honesty, it’s quite impressive. Did the movie need to be in 3D? I can’t say that it did. It feels a bit gimmicky, as most 3D movies do. Roger Ebert’s review went on for quite awhile, snarling about 3D in general, labeling it “distracting and unnecessary.” He has a point, but the 3D process doesn’t really affect the movie in one way or the other.

That kids are going to love this is a given. There are marketable creatures in bright colors that are going to appeal to every seven-year-old on the block. The question is, how agonizing is it going to be for their parents to sit through it? Not terribly so, although it won’t go down as easily as, say, Wall-E with discerning moviegoers. Still, this movie is about as brainless as B.O.B. and just as inoffensive. It’s cinematic Jell-O and while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if you’re looking for something more substantial, you’ll be better served looking elsewhere.

WHY RENT THIS: The kids will love this. The voice cast actually elevates the material, particularly Witherspoon and Rogen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The writing is a bit stale, and smacks of a movie that was created strictly for merchandising potential.

FAMILY VALUES: None of the monsters or aliens is particularly threatening or frightening.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of B.O.B. is an homage to The Blob, Dr. Cockroach an homage to The Fly, Insectosaurus to Mothra and Susan to The Incredible 50-Foot Woman.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray and 2-Disc Ginormous DVD editions contain the B.O.B.’s Big Break short in both 2D and 3D (both come with four pairs of 3D glasses), as well as a 3D paddle ball game. The Blu-Ray also comes with a trivia track, while these additions and the single disc basic edition also come with a digital animation video jukebox.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Management

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