"Monsters vs. Aliens” may not be a masterpiece, but it comes darn close to being one. And by the time I finish this review, I may talk myself into declaring it one.
For my tastes, it is the best animated feature since “Shrek,” and don’t you dare think about seeing it without the aid of glasses in a bona fide 3-D setting.
For all its state-of-the-art ingenuity, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is a conventional, old-fashioned picture. It is also a bit subversive, not because many of the allusions might go over the heads of kids, but because it truly says something about the control of an outer force and a power that may not be worthy of worship.
But on to simpler things. Enter a bride-to-be on her wedding day. Voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Susan Murphy of Modesto is struck by a meteor and morphed into a gargantuan creature taller than the church she is to be married in. This, thanks to a too-close encounter with a spaceship.
We see her next captured and penned up in a secret government prison with other freaks of nature, souls unfortunate enough to have been zapped and contorted by rays from outer space.
‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’
DIRECTED BY Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
SCREENPLAY BY Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman and Jonathan Aibel
VOICED BY Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Hugh Laurie, Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett and Stephen Colbert
RUNNING TIME 90 minutes
Here we go: the government knows more than they care to tell us, but here the mutants are friendly blobs. Voiced by Seth Rogen, there’s B.O.B., a gelatinous creature right out of the ’50s thriller “The Blob.” From who knows where, there’s the Missing Link, an ape-fish captured in Cape Canaveral; an Insectosaurus; and a mutated cockroach voiced by Hugh Laurie.
Left in their sterile prison, there’s no story. But lucky for them, Earth is in deep trouble. From outer space, Gallaxhar, a sort of angry god from above, voiced by Rainn Wilson, is out to destroy us. That’s when a bulldog of a general (Kiefer Sutherland) informs the president (Stephen Colbert) that the last hope rests with our friendly mutants with special powers zapped into them who knows when.
Film fans might have a ball recognizing allusions from other movies. The general is lifted right out of “Dr. Strangelove,” while our mutants are based on the aforementioned “The Blob,” “The Fly,” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Add to the mix direct steals from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” and even Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic, “Metropolis.”
I almost forgot to mention that Susan’s character comes to us right out of “Gulliver’s Travels.” When Colbert’s President Hathaway (very funny) ascends the visiting space ship, we are reminded of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
As a general rule, movies indebted to other works turn into sluggish bores too eager to parade their hipness. Here, the derivative scenes and ideas are integrated into a delightful narrative. While kids are unlikely to spot the numerous allusions, they can still have fun; older film fans may enjoy the story and have a ball spotting the references.
I am sorry to say that without 3-D, “Monsters vs. Aliens” will lose its power in a flat dimension, and I do understand the protests that this adventure should be scarier.
But it is what it is — a jolly romp in the adventureland of outer space with goofy heroes, sensational effects and some satiric barbs. One arrow is aimed at vainglorious TV weathermen. That’s Susan’s dull fiancé (Paul Rudd), who cancels a Paris honeymoon for an interview in a larger market. What an ambitious bore.
See “Monsters vs. Aliens” (only in 3-D) and you will chuckle and take delight in all sorts of tidbits. It’s not “Shrek.” But it comes close.