© 2009 Ray Wong
3-D seems to be the new hot things, especially for animation features. That's certainly one of the biggest selling points of DreamWorks' otherwise-lackluster new film, Monsters vs. Aliens.
A meteorite from outer space hits Susan (Reese Witherspoon) and burns her into the 50-feet-tall woman. She's promptly captured and locked up at a secret government compound by General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland), who calls her Ginormica. While there, Susan/Ginormica meets fellow "monsters": B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a blue blobby thing; Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), sure to have taken his cue from The Fly; and The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a lizard-man/swamp thing.
What they don't know is that an alien space conquerer, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), is looking for the all-power element called Quantonium, which apparently existed in the meteorite and turned Susan into Ginormica. Gallaxhar sent a giant robot to Earth to find and extract the Quantonium. Defenseless, the US government decides to use the monsters to fight the aliens. Ginormica and company accept the challenge in exchange for their freedom.
After an unsuccessful attempt to destroy San Francisco, Gallaxhar arrives on Earth in his spaceship and captures Ginormica. The other monsters go after Gallaxhar to save her and the world.
Reese Witherspoon (Four Christmases) is a decent actress, and sometimes outright brilliant. But as the voice of Susan, she seems out of place, uncomfortable, and forced. Her thin voice also has a rather grating effect. I think the character would have benefited from a deeper, more resonant voice (Anne Hathaway, perhaps). Seth Rogen (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), on the other hand, was born to voice an animated character, and B.O.B. is just perfect.
Hugh Laurie (House M.D.) also does a good job with Dr. Cockroach, adding his slightly geeky voice to the equally geeky role. Will Arnett (Horton Hears a Who) also does a fine job as The Missing Link. He has a way to blend in because his voice is not as recognizable as that of Witherspoon or Rogen. Kiefer Sutherland (24) has a fun time playing the obnoxious General W.R. Monger, and Rainn Wilson (The Office) is adequately slimy and weird as Gallaxhar.
Other celebrity voices include Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report) as President Hathaway, Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man) as Susan's boyfriend Derek, Amy Poehler (Baby Mama), Renée Zellweger (Leatherhead), and John Krasinski (The Office).
Written by a slew of writers headed by director Rob Letterman (Shark Tale), the script is basically 94 minutes of one-liners and sight gags. The story is so simple and straightforward that it seems like an after thought, or a long commercial for toys and tie-in merchandise. They aim at broad humor and slapstick comedy and they got it. In fact, the whole thing has a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it, despite the big budget and celebrity voices.
In fact, the one-liners and pop culture references are so prevalent that they become tiresome after a while. The over-the-top action and humor also wear thin eventually. The characters are all one-dimensional caricatures. The pacing is fine, and some of the animation is impressive (definitely see it in 3-D). It's action-packed and saturated with colors that the young ones would enjoy it.
But for anyone above 8 years old, the thin plot and the jokes seem sophomoric. Compared to Pixar, DreamWorks really does seem to have abandoned good storytelling and characterization in favor of celebrity voices and cheap gags. It's a shame, considering David Katzenberg brought us wonderful stories such as The Lion King and Antz.
Monster hit this isn't. Instead, wait for it to come out on DVD if you must watch it with the young ones.
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd
Directors: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Writers: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 5
Animation – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.5 out of 10