in soothing ‘50s retro animation along the lines of The
Iron Giant, Monsters vs. Aliens is an effective
animated film that, while not offering up anything particularly
new or revolutionary, delivers an engaging story that should
keep kids entertained while providing moms and dads the occasional
knowing chuckle. Bride-to-be Susan (Reese Witherspoon) awakens
to a dappled Modesto sunscape, ready to take the leap of faith
that will make her the wife of TV anchorman Derek (Paul Rudd).
Her faith in his ability to break out of their small media
market and become a major player in television news is, of
course, misplaced; even younger viewers immediately sense
that when Derek effuses how there’s no “I” in Team Derek,
he’s full of beans.
bridegroom shows his true colors during the wedding, when
the hapless Susan turns into a giantess, courtesy of a prenuptial
kick to the head from a falling meteor. Within seconds, the
military is on the scene, subduing sobbing Sue and transporting
her to a top-security facility in which the government houses
monsters like Missing Link (Will Arnett), blobbish B.O.B.
(Seth Rogen) and a former scientist whose work on making humans
as resistant to destruction as roaches went too far, Dr. Cockroach
Susan. It is a credit not just to Witherspoon’s perpetually
sunny personality but to her very real acting chops that we
feel the enormity of the character’s sadness and devastation
at losing the world as she knew it and becoming Ginormica.
Initially appalled by her prison mates, she soon discovers
their appeal and appreciates their friendship. As it turns
out, the monsters have a job, which is save the world from
alien invasion, and here is where the script takes mildly
humorous potshots at 1950s science-fiction movies. The chief
villain, voiced with vivid aplomb by Rainn Wilson, is Gallaxhar,
whose intelligence just might not be all that he thinks it
is. Between scenes of the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge
and the monsters’ first crack at showing what they’ve got,
Ginormica begins to understand, then utilize, the immense
power she now has. One of the best things about Monsters
vs. Aliens is how Susan is transformed from brown-haired
doormat to platinum-blonde wonder woman, and her final confrontation
with Derek is particularly empowering for all the little girls
out there who might have otherwise looked to the Pussycat
Dolls for inspiration.
takes it easy with contrived backstories—Gallaxhar wants Susan
because the alien material that transformed her is exactly
what he needs to gain ultimate power—but the filmmakers throw
in some funny and unexpected bits. Stephen Colbert voices
a suave bolla president who uses an electronic keyboard to
appease the invading aliens, and Kiefer Sutherland’s tribute
to Dr. Strangelove’s Buck Turgidson includes the delicious
observation that the monsters’ prison is “an x-file wrapped
in a cover-up and deep-fried in a paranoid conspiracy.” While
Monsters doesn’t go too heavy-handed in the message
department, it does invoke subtle ethical questions about
our use of science and biomedicine, not to mention warfare.
Clearly designed with an eye to sequel potential, Monsters
vs. Aliens will no doubt spawn a next installment, which
one can only hope is no worse than this harmless entertainment.