Monday, May 24, 2010

Monsters vs. Aliens

I think the "versus" movie is a fantastic idea. When you explain exactly what the movie is about in the title, you don't have to waste unnecessary time developing characters or plot, and can just get on with the fight.  Freddy vs. Jason is, obviously, the best example of this, but there are a lot of good vs. match-ups out there.  Ninjas vs Pirates: The Movie, anyone?  Yes please!

Monsters vs. Aliens, for some unknown reason, chooses not to embrace its title and instead tries to tell a story.  Big mistake.  Instead of watching animated monsters fighting animated aliens, probably ripping their innards out and using them for jump rope, viewers are treated to the girl-power tale of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), as she learns (SPOILER!!!) that happiness does not come from living for others.  Susan, later dubbed Ginormica, is the submissive fiancee of local weatherman and swollen ego, Derek (Paul Rudd), until she is struck by a meteor on their wedding day. 

On a side note, I'd just like to say that, if you find a large object falling toward you, DO NOT turn around and run away.  You're still in the line of impact, and you might not have the best depth perception; instead, run perpendicular to the object's path and you will hopefully avoid any meteors heading your way.  You're welcome. 

Anyway, Susan became radioactive and turned into a giant.  Once again, movies prove science wrong by showing how a horrible accident inevitably leads to super powers.  Take that, science!  Susan is quickly subdued by the military and taken to a military complex that houses other monsters.  The other monsters are an amorphous blob, B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a mad scientist with a cockroach's head and abilities, Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a half-ape and half-amphibian evolutionary wonder, the Missing Link (Will Arnett), and a Chrysler Building-sized grub, Insectosaurus.  Susan is renamed Ginormica by the monsters' military liason, the R. Lee Ermy-esque General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland) and is told that she is now a monster.  See, it's funny because she looks like a normal woman (albeit 100 feet tall) and they're calling her a monster.  Get it?  Well, the kids will.  Susan has a hard time accepting her new role, especially when she is told that monsters never leave their secret military complex.  Frowny face emoticon!  Things change quickly when the alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) shows up to conquer the planet.  Well, that's just his secondary goal.  What Gallaxhar really wants is the radiation that Susan has absorbed; this will return her to normal, but will give him ultimate power.  Obviously, this leads to the monsters being released to fight the alien menace; through the power of fist-fighting, Susan learns the value of self-esteem and true friends.

This movie is co-directed by Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2) and Rob Letterman (Shark Tale), and you can identify elements of their previous work here.  My major problem with Dreamworks Animation's films is their lack of depth.  Sure, they're nice, light movies for little kids, but I like cartoons, too, man!  With Pixar making such amazing movies every year, Dreamworks' stuff often pales in comparison.  Here, we get a movie whose moral is basically that girls should have their own identity and not just be accessories to successful men.  Whoa...edgy!  This soft-sell of a tale is reminiscent of Letterman's Shark Tale' and its "lying is bad" moral.  On the bright side, Conrad Vernon's presence is felt, too.  One of the main reasons Shrek 2 is my favorite Shrek is because it is not afraid to just go for jokes.  Here, both Hugh Laurie and Seth Rogen are both used very well; neither really adds much to the plot, but both are decently funny whenever they get the chance (and I hate Rogen, so that's a huge compliment).  I think these joke characters (Insectosaurus is another) are really what work best in this movie.  It's just too bad they are sprinkled through a competent, but uninspired, main plot.

The animation in this movie is as good as you would expect.  While I have my own issues with Dreamworks Animation's stories, their movies always look great.  This movie was the first computer animated movie made in the new stereoscopic 3-D, but I just saw the 2-D version and it still looked good.

The voice acting is star-studded, but a little hit-and-miss.  Reese Witherspoon may or may not be a good choice as the main character; due to the story's strengths and weaknesses, she doesn't really get an opportunity to excel.  Hugh Laurie and Kiefer Sutherland might have been playing stock characters, but they did a great job diving into their roles; it is difficult to identify them in this film.  Seth Rogen and Rainn Wilson clearly had the most fun making this movie, and it shows.  It helps that their characters are both idiots, since that doesn't stretch their acting too far from their comfort zones.  Stephen Colbert was an inspired choice to play the President of the United States, but I was a little underwhelmed by the lines given to him; there's even a couple of minutes early on where his character is on screen, but has no dialogue.  What a waste!  The rest of the cast failed to impress me.  I didn't care for Will Arnett, as the Missing Link, in particular, but Paul Rudd, Amy Pohler, Julie White, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Helms, Renee Zellweger, and John Krasinski all made brief and unmemorable appearances in the film.

I guess the bottom line here is how likable the movie is.  Kids will absolutely enjoy the movie.  B.O.B. plays for cheap laughs and his humor is aimed at the kids.  Adults will like some of the humor, sure (my favorite was Insectosaurus), but the story is saccharine enough to cause cavities.  There are certainly worse children's movies to watch, but I don't think this one has the all-ages appeal to make it a classic.

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