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Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) Print E-mail
Friday, 03 April 2009
ImageDon’t you hate it when a monster comes rampaging through your town, or beachside resort, or science lab? There’s nothing worse than having a special occasion ruined by a scaled, gooey, or insectoid mutation that comes crashing through the gate, abducts a few women, and eats, maims, or kills a few men. Thankfully, the United States government thinks that monsters are as pesky as you do, and they’ve done something about it. Namely, they’ve locked the creatures up. Forever. And ever. Seems like a win-win situation, right?

Not if your name is Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon). Susan just wanted to get married to the man of her dreams, Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd), a Modesto weatherman with designs to one day be a network anchor. That doesn’t pan out when she’s hit by a massive meteorite and absorbs its energy, becoming a 50-foot woman with strength to match. She’s immediately abducted by the government, and jailed with four other monsters. There’s The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a fish-man hybrid, Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), an insect mad scientist, B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless gelatinous mass, and Insectasaurus, a massive city-eating bug. Told by her captor, General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland) that she will never be allowed outside again, Susan’s only hope is that Dr. Cockroach can cure her of her gigantism (her name, by the way, is changed to Ginormica). But when an alien invasion, led by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) threatens the Earth, Monger convices the President (Stephen Colbert) to let the monsters loose in exchange for saving the world. By this point, you’ve probably seen countless ads for Monsters vs. Aliens on TV, or in the theaters. And it looks funny. Turns out, it actually is funny, but unfortunately, the best jokes are all in the trailers. There are a few gags toward the end of the film that didn’t get mined for advertising, and they’re genuinely funny, but with the talent involved on this one, I expected more laughs per minute.

But what talent there is. Just look at the list of voices in the synopsis above. Normally I’m not a fan of using big name actors for voice acting, because 9 times out of 10, they just use their normal, every day voices, and you can’t help but think of the actor instead of the character (plus it puts truly talented voice actors out of work). In this case, the voice casting was pretty darned great, mostly because the actors bothered to actually act, instead of just reading the lines. Of the cast, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd sound the most like their normal selves, but they’re so damn funny in real life that it works perfectly for those characters. The real surprise is Reese Witherspoon, who turns Susan into a three dimensional character, perfectly in sync with the animation. I never thought about Witherspoon while watching the film, just Susan and her plight for normalcy.

The animation itself is truly stellar, with the animators taking a more old-fashioned cartoon sensibility than is normally seen in CGI fare these days. The characters move smoothly and believably within the world created, and lots of little details (such as B.O.B.’s slime trail and undulating mass) help sell it all. Of course, the film benefits the most from being seen in its native 3D, which, aside from being necessary for a few visual gags, gives the movie a sense of massive scope. When a giant alien robot attacks the Golden Gate Bridge, it feels like a big deal, because the 3D draws you in.

Monsters vs. Aliens weakest point is its story. Unlike Dreamworks last good animated picture, Kung Fu Panda, there is so much exposition and spectacle in Monsters vs. Aliens that the plot takes a back seat. Everything seems to happen abruptly, with the movie going from one event to the next without much flow. You could charitably call it episodic, but in truth it’s just choppy. And that, combined with the fact that most of the best jokes were spoiled before release, lead to a less than satisfying movie experience.

Is it bad? Certainly not. There’s plenty to enjoy in Monsters vs. Aliens, whether it be the animation or the perfect melding of talents that make up Susan’s character. It’s all wrapped up in an attractive three dimensional package (do catch it in IMAX if you have the opportunity), but ultimately it’s a fun distraction, as opposed to a leader in the CGI animated field.

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