Monsters vs. Aliens marks Dreamworks Animation’s first big step in a brave new direction. From here on in, every animated film they produce will be available in 3D. It’s fitting that the first movie in this bold new step features monsters and aliens, a tip of a hat to the heritage of the technology. For the most part, Monsters vs. Aliens is fun enough that it makes their future projects seem really intriguing. On its own, it’s okay, but it could be a lot better.
Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is about to get married, but before she gets to walk down the aisle, a meteor falls on her and makes her grow to enormous size. She’s quickly dispatched by a secret government agency, and taken to a secure facility where she’s meant to live out the rest of her days in captivity with other captured monsters. Among her new colleagues: the missing link (Will Arnett), Dr. Cockroach PhD (Hugh Laurie) and Bob, an indestructible gelatinous blob (Seth Rogen). Susan and her new friends get a chance at freedom when an alien decides to attack Earth, and the monsters are called to defend the planet.
The story has its charms. The character templates that the film employs are genuinely compelling, and there are a bunch of chuckle-worthy moments scattered throughout the picture. It’s all mildly entertaining, though it never really shifts to a higher gear than that. The problem is that the film doesn’t really give the audience a chance to get to know most of its characters. Aside from Susan, the monsters are mostly one-joke wonders: the missing link is out of shape, Dr. Cockroach laughs maniacally, and Bob is dumb. And this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except the film tries to wring some pathos from these characters. One-joke characters can never really earn any sentiment. Overall, however, the film is okay, providing some big action and managing a few well-earned laughs. Visually, the film is still quite a treat. This film is available for viewing in digital 3D, and though it doesn’t really make full use of the technology, the effect is still pretty compelling. Dreamworks is still a step behind Pixar in animation, but their foray into the third dimension is a worthy one, and it’ll be interesting to see how they employ the technology next. The Hans Zimmer score is pretty fun, drawing inspiration at times from the music of a bygone era of filmmaking, fully embracing the film’s conceit.
The cast features many recognizable voices, and they all do a pretty decent job. Reese Witherspoon takes quite a few clever turns of character, though really, she doesn’t stand much of a chance against the more distinctive voices of her castmates. Will Arnett’s unmistakable rasp and oddball delivery has yet to cease being funny. Hugh Laurie’s more high-pitched turn will make his oldest fans long for his days in Blackadder. Seth Rogen’s delivery has always been fantastic. Add to this a supporting voice cast featuring Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd and a show-stealing Stephen Colbert. It’s all pretty good in the voice department, though it can be difficult at times to separate the voice from the actor.
Monsters vs. Aliens is pretty good all in all, if a bit unspectacular. It does deliver in the big action sequences, and there are a few good laughs to be had, but everything else in the film feels little more than perfunctory. It’s still okay, but the bar in animated films has been set really high, between the manic joy of Kung Fu Panda and the endless heart of Wall-E. Monsters vs. Aliens is still a pretty good time in the final analysis, but viewers are probably used to getting something more.