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Overall Rating

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5 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Monsters vs. Aliens
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Bring On "Earth Vs. Soup"
3 stars

Since they began releasing full-length animated features a little over a decade ago, Dreamworks Animation has been aiming to usurp Walt Disney Studios’ long-standing position as the top purveyor of such things. While they may not have achieved that ultimate goal, the studio did manage to entrench itself as Disney’s chief rival thanks to such enormously popular hits as “Madagascar,” “Kung Fu Panda” and the massively successful “Shrek” series. The only drawback, at least from the perspective of someone who isn’t a shareholder in the company, is that with very few exceptions (such as “Chicken Run,” “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “Flushed Away”--all of which, perhaps not coincidentally, were made in conjunction with England’s Aardman Animations), the movies themselves haven’t been very good--unless you consider the combination of weak and derivative storylines, endless pop-culture jokes that tend to grow stale by the time the films hit DVD and big-name actors cast for their marquee value rather than their vocal expertise to be some kind of formula for artistic success--or memorable. (Seriously, when was the last time that you gave a thought to the likes of “Shark Tale” or “Bee Movie”?) The good news about their latest effort, “Monsters vs. Aliens,” is that it is arguably the best non-Aardman animated film that they have come up with to date--it looks good, it contains a few big laughs and, most importantly, it feels like a real movie and not just the end result of a long and grueling business negotiation. The bad news is that it lacks that final bit of inspiration that would transform it from just an okay film into something really special. What makes that all the more frustrating is that it always seems as if it is just on the verge of finding the last needed burst until the final credits begin to roll and you finally realize that it isn’t coming, even though you may be tempted to sit through all the credits for a hoped-for final payoff.

As the film opens, sweet-natured Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is just about ready to get married to weatherman Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd), a man so vain and self-centered that he informs his bride-to-be on the morning of their wedding that their honeymoon trip to Paris is being scuttled so he can audition for a job in Fresno. Luckily for Susan, she manages to dodge this particular bullet by being hit by something a lot bigger--a meteorite containing some kind of mysterious and all-powerful substance that causes her to grow to nearly fifty feet in height (and yes, her wedding dress does somehow manage to keep up with the sudden change, though one guy does get flattened by an errant garter) and develop super-strength. She is immediately brought down by the army and taken to a secret military compound where General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland) informs her that she is the latest addition to a top-secret collection of genuine monsters that have been captured throughout the world and hidden away so as not to cause a panic. Of course, when we see her fellow monsters, they are so charming and adorable that if they were to be released amongst the general public, the only panics would come from people rioting to purchase their stuffed animal incarnations in time for the holidays. There is Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist whose plan to fuse human and cockroach genes in order to make people immortal merely turned him into a giant cockroach. There is the Missing Link (Will Arnett), who is called that even though he looks more like the less-attractive cousin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon than anything. B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) is a goofy and brainless Blob-like creature that is the result of an experiment at a food-additive plant gone awry. Finally, there is Insectasaurus, a once-humble caterpillar that grew to enormous size after being exposed to radiation or something along those lines.

Although the others have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never again see the light of day, Susan (now dubbed Ginormica) still holds out hope that she will one day be set free so that she can reunite with her loved ones and that big jerk Derek. (Seriously, who is going to pass up a honeymoon in Paris with someone with Reese Witherspoon’s voice to go to Fresno?) Miraculously, that chance comes when the evil alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), in pursuit of that meteorite that clouted Susan, sends a ginormous robot to Earth to retrieve it and destroy anything that gets in its way. On the advice of General Monger, the President (Stephen Colbert, whose opening credit inspires one of the film’s bigger laughs) orders that the monsters be sent out in order to defeat the machine and if they do so, they will be granted their freedom for good. Somehow, the gang manages to pull themselves together (though it should be noted that Susan does most of the work) and they manage to win both the battle (even though they wind up trashing half of San Francisco in the process) and their freedom. Alas, the latter turns out to be not quite what it is cracked up to be--Susan returns to Derek and finally discovers that he is rotten through and through while the others realize that despite their heroics, fitting in is still going to be a problem. Of course, it is at this very low point that they discover that Gallaxhar is now planning a full-scale invasion of Earth using millions of clones in order to reclaim the power that will allow him to control the universe once and for all.

The early scenes of “Monsters vs. Aliens” are by far the best--the premise is quickly and efficiently established, the characters are likable without ever coming across as too silly or too obnoxious and the visual style is clean and efficient. I even enjoyed the various in-jokes and references to earlier sci-fi classics, especially since the filmmakers have evidently remembered that the genre actually existed before “Star Wars”--besides our heroes all clearly being inspired by classic movie monster from the 1950’s, there are also nifty bits inspired by the likes of “Dr. Strangelove” (the sequences between the President and Monger, the latter having been designed to be a dead ringer for George C. Scott) and “The Blob” (a hilarious inversion of that film’s opening scene in which the girl at the makeout point is the aggressive one while the guy is the wallflower) among others. The trouble with the film is that once everything is established, it prefers to simply coast along instead of taking things to the next level and after a while, what begins as a promising homage to classic sci-fi silliness turns into the unwanted answer to the unasked question “What would a Joe Dante film be like without Joe Dante directing it?”--a collection of silly jokes and increasingly self-conscious homages to older films that are strung together without any discernible purpose or point. It just plays things too safe to really be effective. For example, even the silliest of the old monster movies tried to invoke some kind of tension and danger amidst the cheesiness. Here, on the other hand, there is no real sense of threat from either the monsters or the aliens--the former are benign and the latter are silly--and as a result, it is hard to get worked up over the possibility of the destruction of the Earth since even the youngest audience members are going to know pretty much going in how things are going to turn out. (No, I’m not asking for “Mars Attacks”-style carnage to appear in what is meant to be a family film but couldn’t the aliens have posed some kind of actual menace instead of coming across as complete goofs?) Instead, things just begin to drag at the precise minute that they should be soaring and while it never completely falls apart, it never manages to live up to either its premise or its irresistible title.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” also marks the first major foray by Dreamworks Animation into the world of 3-D animation and in fact, chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has taken an enormous gamble by decreeing that from now on, all of their future output will be done in that format. From a business perspective, this approach makes sense--theaters can charge a few extra dollars per ticket for 3-D showings and it discourages bootleggers who would be unable to replicate the effect--but from an artistic perspective, it is more questionable because not every animated movie would be better served by having things poking out into the audience every few minutes in order to score a reaction from audience members. Ironically, even though “Monsters vs. Aliens” actually is the kind of film that could have benefited from such an approach--after all, when the gimmick first emerged in the 1950’s, it was usually tied in with the very same genre films that this one is mining for inspiration--the film’s co-directors, Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, who got the order to go 3-D late in the pre-production process, have instead chosen to take a more subtle approach to utilizing the process, save for an initial gag that amusingly resurrects the old bit of having someone aiming a paddleball at the camera. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t mind this approach very much--having things pointlessly hurled or jabbed at the audience can get very old very quickly in the wrong hands--but if ever there was a film that screamed for a more amusingly garish utilization of the gimmick (besides “My Bloody Valentine 3-D,” of course), it is this one. From a technical standpoint, everything is well-done, I suppose, but my guess is that a lot of people are going to go into this particular film expecting to see lots of stuff popping off the screen in the silliest ways possible and that a lot of them are going to come away from it slightly disappointed with their relatively low-key deployment.

Of course, most of you reading this probably care not a whit for any sort of analysis of the artistic flaws of a family-oriented animated film--you essentially want to know if it will keep the young ones occupied for 90-odd minutes without being too painful for anyone over the age of 12. For the most part, however, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is a perfectly serviceable animated film that kids will probably like a lot and that adults will more or less be able to tolerate as it plays out before them even though it is kind of silly and instantly forgettable. However, if you are hoping for the kind of ambition and inventiveness that fueled such recent animated masterworks as “WALL*E” and “Coraline”--the kind of grand cinematic statements that stick in the mind long after the end credits have rolled--you are likely to come away from “Monsters vs. Aliens” feeling slightly bummed out that it isn’t as good as it could have been or should have been.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17540&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/27/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

1/20/14 Charles Tatum Fun film, with enough satire and laughs for adults 4 stars
10/24/10 Dr.Lao Could some one explain to Dreamworks what "funny" means, after Shreck they forgot 2 stars
1/20/10 Stanley Thai A fluffy, safe movie that is, at times, funny. It's no Piixar. 3 stars
9/30/09 zenny not funny, silly plot. mediocre otherwise 2 stars
8/26/09 starmage2 Great film to take kids to, with some moments that adults will enjoy. 3 stars
8/21/09 Jenny Tullwartz Wizard of Oz meets Fantastic 4 might've worked, but IXNAY on my super exgirlfriend subplot! 2 stars
8/15/09 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne Isnt Reese's spoon now withered enough, she could move on to withering a fork or something? 2 stars
8/14/09 Meredith Harshaw Beuaty and the Beast just doesn't work when Beauty IS the beast! 1 stars
4/13/09 KingNeutron This was a very silly movie, mostly for kids and not much besides SFX 3 stars
4/02/09 Leanne I wouldn't go if you don't have kids, but it was cute. My 3 and 5-year olds loved it. 4 stars
4/02/09 Ming I like the Golden Bridge special effect 3 stars
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  27-Mar-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Sep-2009

  03-Apr-2009 (PG)

  02-Apr-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Sep-2009

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