Let there be no doubt, Monsters vs. Aliens is the best film to ever feature “vs.” in the title. If you know your stuff, you know that’s no vote of confidence. Don’t worry; it’s not a bad film regardless of the title.
Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) had it all going for her. On her wedding day, she made the error of running underneath a crashing meteor— who hasn’t? This meteor, enriched with a rare space mineral, transforms her. She grows drastically, and before long her life is upside down. She is forced into the America’s top-secret monster bunker. Lucky for her, an alien imperialist by the name of Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) is after that mineral and threatening to wreak havoc on Earth. That’s where Susan and her new cohorts, B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and Link (Will Arnett) are called into action as our world’s saviors.
As a DreamWorks film borrowing from the Shrek formula (star voices, no songs, pop culture references), Monsters vs. Aliens is an enjoyable film. It’s attractive, clever, and entertaining. It’s Shrek-lite in that its references are not overpowering. Jokes occur because the characters have motivation. For instance, I laughed at just about anything that came from B.O.B. because his lack of a brain allows him to say the most outrageous remarks. Much like Shrek, it does a great job with textures for a computer animated film under the art direction of a cartoon. None of the characters look real by design, but their sense of scale is easily perceived. This may be attributed to the Real-D 3D process as well, which isn’t a distraction despite one-size-fits-few glasses.
Some of you are going to expect me to nit-pick, and here you go. There are scenes that raise questions. I can’t buy into the way Dr. Cockroach solved the DDR puzzle, which was nothing but luck regardless of his background of study. Also it is established early what a broken ankle looks like. When a close-up suggests that Susan has one, the matter is quickly forgotten. A bigger issue with Susan is her change in wardrobe. If we assume that our government has built this underground bunker to accommodate monsters, we are expected to believe their foresight told them to produce clothing for a 50’ female should the need arise. Even stranger, Gallaxhar has clothing made for her too. I’m sure this strikes fear in the minds of contestants on Project Runway.
Kiefer Sutherland and Hugh Laurie deserve special praise for not simply calling it in. They created voices for their characters. But don’t audiences want stars being stars? If you have Sutherland in your film, but no one knows it, what’s the purpose of writing that check? There is a worse offense when Renée Zellweger appears for a cameo of sorts. Her role is small enough that any number of voice talents should have been offered the part. Renée’s placement in the film, took money out of someone’s pocket— an actress who specializes in voices just had a job taken away during our struggling economic times because someone thought that Ms. Zellweger needed even more cash. It’s bad enough that each “star” in the film received credit in the opening, when the real stars sit at a computer, but needlessly subbing voice talents for celebs is plain low.
This 3D-in-color thing is really catching on. All the trailers toted their 3D technology. I suppose my reviews will eventually make less note of it; you don’t hear anyone praising a film for simply having sound anymore. At this point, it is still a major value adding factor, so it deserves some addressing. To Monsters’ benefit, it’s not alone in forging a quality film. ***