Monsters vs. Aliens *** ½
Directed By: Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon
Written By: Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky and Rob Letterman and Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon (Susan Murphy/Ginormica), Seth Rogen (B.O.B.), Hugh Laurie (Dr. Cockroach Ph.D.), Will Arnett (The Missing Link), Kiefer Sutherland (General W.R. Monger), Rainn Wilson (Gallaxhar), Stephen Colbert (President Hathaway), Paul Rudd (Derek Dietl), Julie White (Wendy Murphy), Jeffrey Tambor (Carl Murphy), Amy Poehler (Computer), Ed Helms (News Reporter), Renée Zellweger (Katie), John Krasinski (Cuthbert).
Monsters vs. Aliens is good old fashioned fun. It is a colorful, funny fast moving animated film, loaded with nods to science fiction films in the past – everything from cheesy old 1950s space invaders movies to Spielberg and Kubrick – that is both action packed enough to appeal to kids, and clever enough to appeal to adults, without slipping into the constant nudging and winking that marred the Shrek films. In short, it’s entertaining as hell.
The story opens with Susan (with the voice of Reese Witherspoon), as a normal Modesto woman on the day of her wedding to local TV weatherman Derek Dietel (Paul Rudd). A meteor strikes earth, landing directly on top of her. Instead of being crushed to death, the meteor gives Susan special powers. She grows into a giant, and has pure energy coursing through her veins. Of course, she is immediately brought down by the government, and put into a holding cell with other “monsters”. There is Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist, who turned himself into a life sized bug, The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a sea monster that is millions of years old, and Bob (Seth Rogen), a talking pile of blue sludge with no brain. Oh and there’s Insectasaurous, a giant caterpillar, who doesn’t talk, and gets easily distracted by bright lights. When an evil alien warlord, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) discovers that the meteor that crashed on earth has the energy source he needs to clone a race of other Gallaxhar, he sends his giant robot underling to get it back, before heading to earth himself. Earth’s only chance to save itself, is to rely on these monsters to stop him.
And that’s the story in a nutshell – but then you probably figured that out based on the title. But the story isn’t really what holds our interest. It’s the characters, and the thrilling animation. 3-D is perhaps the perfect way to see a film like this. It’s a nod to the old 3-D movies that were popular in this genre in the 1950s, but done with expertise. True, I could have done without some of the more overt effects (a man playing with a paddle ball for example), which just reeks of showing off, but like Coraline earlier this year, the filmmakers use the 3-D not simply to create awe inspiring effects, but also to deepen the field. The effect is jaw dropping. The animation beyond that is also wonderful. The characters have a unique design to them, and the colors pop consistently throughout. In short, it’s a joy to simply watch the great animation.
The voice actors also do a terrific job. Witherspoon has a wholesome innocence in her voice that makes her perfect for Susan. Will Arnett has a cocksure arrogance about his voice as the Missing Link. Hugh Laurie Cackles manically as Dr. Cockroach. And best of all is Seth Rogen, who seems to be a natural playing a monster with no brain. They are supported by an excellent, evil Rainn Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, going all George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove as General W.R. Monger, the monsters jailer, and of course the great Stephen Colbert as the arrogant, asshole President, who seems just about as delusional as Colbert plays on his TV show nightly. That the screenplay is also constantly funny (apparently with some ad-libbing done by the cast), helps to keep the movie constantly entertaining.
Monsters vs. Aliens does not approach the level of genius on display in many of the Pixar movies (Wall-E for example), but then I’m not really sure the filmmakers are trying to do that. They are looking at making a loving homage to the science fiction films they love, and in that they succeed wonderfully. The score, by Henry Jackman, does a wonderful job at paying tribute to John Williams. The monsters themselves are, of course, based on the B-films Attack of the 50 Foot Women, The Fly, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Blob, and Galaxhar looks like he stepped off the pages of some 1950’s Amazing Stories book. The nods to E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind work wonderfully. But even if you aren’t interested in what the films that this movie pays homage to, Monsters vs. Aliens works wonderfully well as a film by itself. It is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen so far this year.