Movie Review: Monsters vs. Aliens
The Charlotte Observer
“Monsters vs. Aliens” celebrates the melting pot at the heart of the American dream.
Our nation is big enough, literally and metaphorically, to celebrate the superweirdos who dispatch a planet-gobbling menace. One is a skyscraper-sized woman who skates with cars on her feet. Another is a missing link who's half-amphibian, half-human and all attitude.
The rest are a shrewd, slightly mad cockroach, an enormous and nearly brainless slug, and a greedy creature that can't be pinned down and consumes everything in its path. (Although the film comments on our current financial crisis, the last three aren't symbolic.)
And who's the villain? An intolerant bully trying to populate his new world entirely with clones of himself. “Monsters vs. Aliens” may have been started before the Obama candidacy, but it's the first animated fable about the America his White House aims to represent.
It's also the usual compendium of mayhem, butt jokes, pompous authority figures, zooming action sequences and noisy battles. (I saw the 2-D version, so I can't tell you whether heroic Ginormica is more impressive in 3-D.)
These elements have been leavened by the messages common to animation for kids: You must accept and value yourself without worrying what others want you to be, you should “find your flock” (as teachers tell youngsters) among like-minded folks, and self-empowerment comes from testing your limits. These themes never grow old when presented, as here, with reasonable humor and a good heart.
The movie may best be appreciated by people who know the references. All five monsters come from low-budget science fiction films of the 1950s. The towering Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon) was inspired by “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.” The missing link, silent in “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” has Will Arnett's voice here. Roaring, wordless Insectosaurus is a “Godzilla” slug magnified by radiation, while Bob the Blob (Seth Rogen) comes from – well, “The Blob.” Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) has a counterpart in “The Fly,” where another scientist acquires the characteristics of an insect after a failed experiment.
Only Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) remains generically naughty, hoping to turn Earth into a copy of his own destroyed world. (Feel no pity. He destroyed it.) His clone army hearkens back to a recent trio of sci-fi prequels. And though young folks may think the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge is an “X-Men” homage, a radioactive octopus tried to pull the bridge down in the 1955 “It Came From Beneath the Sea.” Surely it's no coincidence that Gallaxhar moves on squid-like tentacles?
Directors Rob Letterman (who co-directed “Shark Tale”) and Conrad Vernon (who co-directed “Shrek 2”) don't give the material teeth or fresh ideas. They just rely on a naturally funny premise and plenty of movement, which should be enough for kids weaned on modern animation or old-timers who cut their movie teeth on '50s films.
Folks in between may not get all the jokes or want to get them. Calling someone General W.R. Monger raises only a mild smile, though Kiefer Sutherland is at his best voicing this old warrior, and the buffoonish U.S. president has been surpassed almost everywhere else, including “Mars Attacks!” I'll bet Jack Nicholson would have been embarrassed to announce the security level has been raised to brown because he soiled his pants; Stephen Colbert is not.
Novelty may be beside the point, though, in a picture that reaffirms American core values. Disney directors back in the Golden Age wouldn't have thought to include a 350-foot Insectosaurus, yet the themes of “Monsters” are often the same as in “Dumbo” and “Pinocchio.” Visual gimmicks and puns change from decade to decade, but worthwhile ideals go on forever.