Monsters vs. Aliens

monstersvsaliensposterstarring Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, and Will Arnett
written by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky & directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language.

When Susan Murphy (Witherspoon) is hit by a meteorite on her wedding day, she is suddenly and mysteriously imbued with enormous size and strength. These newfound abilities lead to her imprisonment by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), who has been collecting and containing monsters since the 1950s. Renamed Ginormica, Susan joins Insectosaurus, mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), the reptilian Missing Link (Arnett) and an amorphous gelatinous mass named B.O.B. (Rogen). Before long, earth is invaded by an evil alien menace named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), and when conventional weapons fail, General Monger convinces the President (Stephen Colbert) to send in his team of monsters to do the job.

Monsters vs. Aliens has three really obvious things going for it. First, it has a fantastic premise, almost inspired in its silliness. The concept combines some of the most hackneyed ideas out of old B-grade monster flicks into an affectionate parody that really manages to bring the laughs. This is a movie that is simply full of ideas, and even when they don’t quite work, there is a palpable sense of fun and zany creativity behind them.

Second, the movie has a really great cast. There are definitely bad ways to stack celebrity voices into an animated feature, but here they seem to have been selected with an eye towards character first, and name-recognition second (if at all). Seth Rogen seems to have suddenly become the go-to guy for voice acting. I count five voice-overs in the past two years, and I, at least, have felt that more than a few of those were lacking something. Here, however, he seems to bring something other than his name to his character.

Laurie is magnificently funny as Dr. Cockroach, and it would not be difficult to watch the movie without connecting the voice to the actor. And casting Stephen Colbert as the President of the United States is just fun in a very obvious and entertaining way, a good joke in itself, even if doesn’t turn out to be quite as side-splitting as I had hoped. Witherspoon is the real stand-out, though. She navigates Susan flawlessly through a somewhat complex character arc in a way that both invites sympathy and interest, and makes it easy to ignore the elements of her development that don’t quite seem to make sense.

Finally, the movie showcases some glorious computer animation, providing a genuinely eye-popping 3D experience. The use of 3D is all the more appropriate as it hearkens back to the gimmicky use of the format during the 1950s (a fact which becomes fodder for one of the movie’s early gags). The new resurgence of 3D releases seems less obsessed with flashy invasions of the audience’s personal space (although there is still a bit of that), and more interested in providing a compelling environment for our eyes to hungrily explore. It is as though the screen were a window through which to see the action taking place on the other side rather than the flat projection of an image.

So, as I say, Monsters vs. Aliens has a great deal to recommend it. It’s greatest shortcoming is the failure to really live up to the wacky brilliance that seems to be within its reach. A few of the running gags fall rather flat, even before they are taken a bit too far, particularly elements involving B.O.B. and some of his schtick, and the interactions between General Monger and the President. I guess the chief problem is that so many of these ideas are funnier in theory than in practice, which is unfortunate. Still, perhaps a movie called Monsters vs. Aliens has no business being a masterpiece. It certainly kept me laughing, and I left feeling that I had gotten the good time that I paid for. I can’t think of anything more I might have reasonably expected.

~ by Jared on March 27, 2009.

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