Monsters vs Aliens
Watch out! Another bloated, over-produced, high-concept monstrosity has escaped from the labs at Dreamworks Animation, and it’s out to devour your kids.
But don’t be too alarmed. Monsters vs Aliens is fairly harmless – a toothless satire with a kneejerk female empowerment message and a sorry excuse for a plot.
Bubblegum feminist Reese Witherspoon lends her voice and her stature to Susan Murphy, first seen in a little white bridal gown digesting the disappointing news that her husband-to-be has nixed their honeymoon in Paris to pursue a career opportunity in Fresno. No sooner has she swallowed that bombshell than she’s struck by an incoming meteor with side effects straight out of a 1950s B movie. Susan is standing at the altar when she starts to grow, and bursting out of the top steeple before she can say “I do!”
Dubbed “Ginormica” by the military, Susan is transported to a hush-hush high-tech secure unit designed to house unwanted monsters. To wit: Dr Cockroach (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who semi-advertently mutated with a bug; B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) an amorphous blue jelly-like blob who gets on just fine without a brain; Missing Link (Will Arnett), a gung-ho amphibian who’s all mouth. There’s also Insectosaurus, who resembles a giant dust mite and who has remarkably little to say for himself.
You might think that a 50 foot woman and this motley crew would be enough to generate some story ideas – something a bit more original than misfit superheroes saving the world would be nice – but for Dreamworks the mantra is always keep on top-loading the voice talent. Rainn Wilson is a squid-like evil alien invader (Gallaxhar), Stephen Colbert the US President, and Kiefer Sutherland riffs as General WR Monger. (Not to mention cameos by Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Poehler, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski.)
Movie buffs will have fun counting up the references to myriad sci-fi classics – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Invaders from Mars, The Fly, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, Mothra and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, for starters – and other random bits and pieces (Dr Strangelove). But as in Shark Tale and the Shrek movies, these allusions aren’t integrated into a coherent story, they just dress up the filmmakers’ sketchy imagination.
Is it accidental that Gallaxhar resembles Barack Obama (except for the four eyes and eight legs I mean)? And does that make Susan a surrogate for Sarah Palin, or Hilary Clinton? We’ll probably never know for sure.
At least the first half moves along quite smoothly (assuming you’re willing to skirt several plot potholes), but once the introductions are over and we’ve enjoyed the splashiest of the big confrontations between the monsters inc. and Gallaxhar’s giant one-eyed robot (trashing several San Francisco landmarks in the process), Monsters vs Aliens soon runs out of places to go.
As in Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda the supporting characters don’t get much of a look-in once the action starts, and while Susan/Ginormica should be the mother of all female action heroines, she takes an awfully long time to learn some very basic lessons about self-respect.
Visually, too, it’s a disappointing step back after the sophistication of Kung Fu Panda. On balance you’re better off seeking out the 3D screenings, but 3D effects can’t compensate for 2D characters. All in all, M vs A confirms the extreme quality gap in the on-going face-off between the two market-leaders in the field of family animated features, Dreamworks v Pixar.
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