Note: I got invited to an IMAX 3-D press screening of this film but was unable to attend. In order to post this review in a timely manner, I had to see it in 2-D. I plan to see it again soon in the three-dimensional process and will add some thoughts afterward.
Monsters vs. Aliens is the kind of movie that brings out the ten year-old boy in me. When I was a kid, I loved monsters. Not just monster movies, but monsters themselves. The whole idea of them was cool. Same with aliens, although I found them more frightening because some people actually believed they existed. If this film, which features one species fighting the other, had been released when I was that young, it likely would have been my favorite movie ever, save for a certain George Lucas epic that's in a class by itself. I'm a bit older than ten now (just a wee bit…really) but I still think the movie is pretty rad. Yeah, that's right - I said "rad." If you don't like that, what-ever.
In this computer animated tale, a young woman named Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is marrying her boyfriend Derek (Paul Rudd), a local TV weatherman with higher broadcasting aspirations. As she loiters outside the church right before the ceremony, Susan is hit by a meteorite from outer space. She suddenly and inexplicably grows to a height of over 50 feet. Before she can even say "I do," the military swoops in and whisks her away to a top secret government facility where General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland) houses a group of monsters, keeping them away from the public. The others are lizard creature the Missing Link (Will Arnett), mass of blue goo B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), the self-explanatory Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and an enormous bug called Insectosaurus.
The monsters are let out when an alien named Galaxhar (Rainn Wilson) unleashes a robot probe on Earth, with plans to invade our planet using an army of his clones. Susan, now dubbed Ginormica by the government, leads the others in a charge to prevent this from happening.
The first thing I noticed about Monsters vs. Aliens was how great the production design was. Everything about the movie has been created with an eye toward paying tribute to sci-fi/horror films of the 50's and 60's. You see this throughout, but most notably in the characters, who have clearly been inspired by such vintage pictures as The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Fly, The Blob, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and the Godzilla entries. There are additionally some specific comedic nods to other beloved movies of the genre(s). Some of these references will go over the heads of many children, but adults may find themselves laughing in recognition. Many other things are humorous as well, especially the scenes involving a clueless President (Stephen Colbert) who can't tell the difference between the button that turns on the coffee maker and the one that unleashes World War III.
Voice casting can go a long way in animated features; since the actors cannot be seen, it's important to match the right performer to the right character. Sometimes it can also be a distraction to have big-name stars; I can recall star-studded animated movies where it seemed like famous folk had been cast simply for marquee value. In this case, the actors are really incorporated into things more naturally. Take, for instance, B.O.B. the blob. He's has no brain, one eye, and he flirts with a bowl of Jello. Is there anyone else who could make that work like the great Seth Rogen? Not that I can think of. Like all the voice actors, Rogen injects a piece of his own persona into the character, creating something really memorable.
Computer animation continues to dazzle as it reaches new heights. There are moments in this film that were incredible to behold. One of them finds Susan and the robot probe careening through city streets, knocking over buildings and stepping on cars. Another involves the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Near the end, there's a lengthy sequence inside Galaxhar's spaceship, where millions of his clones are created and dispatched. The ongoing advances in animation make it easier for filmmakers to create worlds we can get lost in, which is exactly what happens here. You get swept up in everything that's going on, which makes for an excellent experience.
Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't have the deepest story, and its message about accepting yourself for who you are is pretty standard stuff. Even so, I had a great time watching it. The characters are likeable, the humor is consistently funny, the action is effective, and the overall homage to classic science-fiction cinema tickled the film buff in me.
( 1/2 out of four)
Monsters vs. Aliens is rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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