March 26, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

Guess what's coming to dinner

Grade: B –

Directors: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

Starring the voices of: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Rudd

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Creature feature schlock of the 1950s meets high-tech parody in Monsters vs. Aliens, a slight but heady animated flick that subsists on eye-popping visuals (the 3-D version comes highly recommended), witty one-liners, and spot-on voice casting.

A chance run-in with a meteorite on her wedding day turns shrinking violet Susan (Reese Witherspoon, finally sounding like she’s having fun) into a willowy 50 Foot Woman nicknamed Ginormica. Quarantined inside an Area 51 with a collection of fellow mutated freaks, the “monsters” are released when needed to combat a tentacular alien overlord (Rainn Wilson) bent on conquering Earth (natch).

Spoofing films ranging from The Fly to Creature from the Black Lagoon, Susan’s running mates include a mad scientist-cum-cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a 20,000 year-old fish-ape hybrid (Will Arnett), a jolly, gelatinous blue blob (Seth Rogan), and a gigantic blatting grub patterned after venerable Toho Studios monsters such as Mothra. Toss in Kiefer Sutherland as a tough-talking Southern general named W.R. Monger (I’m thinking Gen. “Buck” Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove) and a timorous U.S. President, voiced by Stephen Colbert (I’m thinking…Stephen Colbert), who attempts to communicate with the space invaders by cranking out a medley of the five note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Axle F on his Casio keyboard. The latter is a scene that will first have you rolling your eyes before winning you over with its sheer inanity, much like the film as a whole.

This Dreamworks Animation offering is a pale comparison with the likes of Pixar’s The Incredibles or Monsters, Inc. – obvious parodies aside, MvA is a really just a mutant amalgam of those two superior offerings – in terms of plot, import, and emotional depth. It’s style as substance anchored by a script so busy it accomplishes little. Still, Monsters vs. Aliens stands for the value of friendship, embracing one’s differences as gifts, and that sometimes it takes trashing a giant alien robot for a gal to get her groove back.

Neil Morris

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