Monsters vs. Aliens: Casting the Animated Feature

The choice of the actors lending their voices to the cast of “Monsters vs. Aliens” (MvA) was anything but spontaneous. Filmmakers put together their wish lists of names and some initial calls were made. But sometimes, being the right filmmakers in the right place at the right time proved serendipitous, and a certain leading lady heeded her own inner call to join the MvA crusade.

Director Letterman relates, “The first time Reese Witherspoon came in and we actually met her, Jeffrey brought her by the studio and gave her a tour–he was basically showing her all the movies going on to see what she would respond to. Conrad and I were waiting and she came in, and we gave her a basic pitch of the idea of the movie and explained to her that we really wanted to make the female lead the hero character to balance out the dudes in the film. When she heard that her eyes just lit up.”

“Reese connected to the story and character of Susan,” adds Vernon. “She e-mailed Jeffrey later that day and said she wanted to come onboard!”

For producer Stewart, a big draw to the project was similar to Witherspoon's: “I love the idea of this ordinary woman thrown into this extraordinary world. The monster characters are so funny and individual, and this idea of a small-town girl from Modesto, California suddenly becoming part of this outrageous crew–thrust into this situation in which she has to fight off an alien invasion–it was inventive and funny.”

The Oscar-winning actress explains, “I like that she is a regular girl who learns to value herself. She starts the movie where she thinks she has everything going for her in her life. She's about to be married. She's got this great guy. She's really ready to start a life that she thinks is the right life for her. In one twist of fate, she has to really face the fact that she never really wanted much from herself, never really learned to value what was great about her as an individual. I think that is a journey that a lot of people can relate to. Susan is a great character, and it's fun to see somebody become a superhero–to suddenly have that kind of super strength. Don't we all sort of dream about those things”

“Offbeat” is one good word to describe the most intelligent of the incarcerated Monsters that Susan (later named “Ginormica”) meets in the secret military facility–Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.

The most brilliant scientist in the world is actually a cockroach, the result of a self-experiment gone awry. His life's work confiscated, Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. now spends his time in lock-up working on something diabolical (as all mad scientists do).

Rob Letterman: “We wanted somebody to be very formal and erudite, because we thought that would be a great contrast with the whole 'cockroach bad' thing. And so, we immediately thought of Hugh. And a lot of people don't realize, at least people in the States, that he's a Brit. Hugh Laurie is obviously mostly known in the States for 'House,' but he is a famous actor for many years in England. He did 'The Black Adder' [television series] with Rowan Atkinson and he's an incredible comedic actor. We were fans of his prior to 'House.' So it was very fortunate to have him on the movie.”

For Laurie–who is, indeed, erudite, and quite recently was awarded an OBE by the Queen herself–playing a brilliant bug was a dream job. Hugh explains, “First of all, I love doing animated projects. You wear your own clothes. I love the freedom of messing around and trying to create something in a voice. It's exciting and a fun challenge. But also, now these animated films have sort of really become the summit of modern entertainment.”

Director Vernon follows, “When we met with him, he had this look on his face, like, 'Why are you guys talking to me right now' We toured him around the DreamWorks Animation campus, and wound up in the editing room, showing him storyboard sequences of the film. We talked casually and really hit it off. He said, 'Yes' on the spot! Once he got in the booth, he did not disappoint.”

The wry Laurie remembers it differently: “After a lovely tour around the place, I was presented with this massive amount, almost like a museum, of artwork that they'd already composed…to start to get a sense I suppose, for their benefit and for prospective actors or designers and so on of the world they were trying to create. I was immediately entranced by that wonderful '50s feel, which is not only wonderfully relevant to the style of story they were trying to tell, but it also was a great period of American design. I was sold as soon as I walked in through the door. I didn't tell them that, of course. I hemmed and hawed and stroked my chin and I tried to play hard to get, but I was in for a ride from the word 'Go.'”

Another Monster–the macho half-ape, half-fish called The Missing Link–is also always ready for a ride…usually to the nearest beach to pursue and scare the female frolickers. Pre-historically, he was the first creature that decided to step out of the water and onto dry land, evolving as he went. Sadly, he chose to leave the water at the height of the Ice Age, stepping onto land that was hovering below 32*F. Thousands of years later, thawed by paleontologists, The Missing Link tried to return to his watering hole (now a five-star resort), where he was captured and locked up.

Comic chameleon Will Arnett was selected to fill the flippers of The Missing Link: “What I love about The Missing Link is his willingness to jump into any situation without really reading the inherent dangers of that situation. He'll do anything. He's like, 'Hey, what are we gonna do today' 'We're gonna try and take on some alien invaders!' 'Sounds great, let's go!' He doesn't put a whole lot of thought into it. I identify with that impulsiveness, I think.”

The filmmakers also appreciated Arnett's “let's go” attitude, as director Rob Letterman comments, “We played back his voice recordings to the designers of the character. Will has this voice quality that you can't duplicate. It's amazing. Plus, he's hysterically funny. And luckily for us, just like everyone else in the cast, they would go off script and add some great stuff, and bring the dialogue off the page.”

While for some the work of an
imation is a long, drawn-out affair, just the opposite is true for the versatile Arnett: “The great thing about animation is that, yes, it does take a long time, but you are able to go back and re-work bits. Once everyone sees some of the rough animation, they can see what works and what doesn't. Rob and Conrad can look and say, 'Oh, you know what You ought to get them to say this.' Or you can get a lot of different choices for months and months and months…as opposed to making a movie, where you shoot something and then you're gone from that scene and you can't go back.”

The scientists who created B.O.B. (short for “benzoate-ostylezene-bicarbonate”) were trying to re-write '50s snack food fad history by combining a chemically altered ranch-flavored dessert topping with a genetically altered tomato. When the concoction suddenly gained consciousness–as much consciousness as something without a brain can gain–the ravenous and somewhat sweet gelatinous mass joined the ranks of Dr. Cockroach and The Missing Link–in the Monster big house.

Letterman says, “He's really lovable, and yet, not the brightest blob in the world. But as he puts it, he makes up for it with his good looks. We needed somebody who came across as a slacker, who was also very endearing, and Seth Rogen was perfect for that. On top of that, he brings so much to the role. He's incredible. When we recorded him, he came up with amazing ad-libs–he is so fast and so funny and can improv pretty much anything.”

Producer Stewart continues, “I feel like we were really lucky to get Seth at this time in his career. B.O.B.'s not the brightest bulb, but Seth plays him with a real sweetness and sort of a wide-eyed wonder that really makes him one of our most charming characters. He's a tremendous ad-libber and we incorporated many of his improvs into the film. It's so wonderful to have this fan favorite, this character who is really unintentionally funny and has this tremendous heart as well.”

Rogen is no stranger to animation voice work, having just voiced the character of Mantis in the worldwide hit “Kung Fu Panda.” But as lightening quick as Mantis is, B.O.B. is as slow as molasses. Rogen observes, “It's really great to be able to switch things up. Mantis was all about a quick temper and awesome kung fu abilities. For B.O.B., I just kind of show up and look at my lines and then just space, and go to some really nice, sweet, innocent place, I don't know, like a fair or something. I'm, like, seven years old and I've got this humongous cotton candy and there's the fun house and the roller coaster–just a ton of stuff that amazes a kid. Kinda everything amazes B.O.B. So he eats a little too much, so what At the end of the day, he really is the nicest Monster…except for Susan, but she's really not a Monster, she's just overly tall.”

Of key importance to the filmmakers was that all the Monsters be tough and able to throw down–they do have to face an alien bent on world destruction, after all–but also be charming and endearing. This side of them shows up a little later after Susan joins their ranks.

Anyone of normal height would probably view the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus as a threat. The overgrown bug is not so much a threat as it is…hungry. And young. After wreaking havoc in Tokyo (where else), the critter is captured while teething on a skyscraper. Apparently, like a lot of fledgling fauna, Insectosaurus is entranced by shiny things and has absolutely no idea of its own size and power. Also, the grub doesn't so much speak as make indecipherable noises and high-pitched squeals (which only The Missing Link can interpret).

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