Monster Vs. Aliens

The title of the new animated 3-D, “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” the studio that produced it, DreamWorks Animation, and the creative filmmakers behind the cameras, should tell you almost everything you need to know about the picture overseen by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the industry’s greatest champion of 3-D technology.

Co-directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon are veterans of such fare, the former as writer-director of “Shark Tale,” and the latter as the director of “Shrek 2,” two of Katzenberg’s most popular animations.

Unlike Pixar, Katzenberg and his Unit do not go for innovation per se or risky ideas the way that Pixar does, hence last year’s “Kung Fu Panda” versus “Wall-E.” But because they are more conventional (or less sophisticated), their movies push the right buttons and hit their target audiences, delivering more old-fashioned, accessible entertainment. Indeed, despite rave reviews and critics kudo (Best Picture from the L.A. Film Critics Association), “Wall-E” was less commercially successful at the marketplace than “Kung Fu Panda,” domestically as well as internationally.

The freshness or novelty of “Monsters Vs. Aliens” is not in the conceptual ideas or the execution of creatures, but in the voices of the stars behind them. In this particular case, the lovely Reese Witherspoon with her unmistakable delivery and intonation, and her image as a sexy, shapely girl.

Also relatively new to the genre are Seth Rogen (a regular in Apatow’s comedies), hailing from TV, Stephen Colbert, ironically cast as an ineffectual president, and Hugh Laurie as Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.
Like other DreamWorks animations, “Monsters Vs. Aliens” is playful and self-reflexive, this time around using our fond familiarity of and nostalgia for Hollywood genres of the 1950s, albeit with several twists.  

In many B-level sci-fi movies or TV series of the 1950s and 1960s, the tale often begins with the interception of a strange signal from a planet in another galaxy, which is usually underscored by spooky organ music. Aliens then arrive and either wallop or instruct the inhabitants of Earth some humanist lessons about peace and co-existence.
Needless to say, the creatures in this PG-13 tale are less threatening and more benevolent than the usual, and the musical cue is also more soothing and melodic than ominous, paying tribute to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” directed by Spielberg (who’s of course a co-captain of DreamWorks)

The style of “Monsters vs. Aliens” was influenced not only by “B” movies and their printed advertisement, but also by the period’s Mad magazines, which displayed the work of influential illustrators Jack Davis, Don Martin and Jack Rickard. Savvy viewers will be able to recognize the film’s tribute to these sources during the war room playback of archival footage of the pre-capture sprees of Dr. Cockroach, The Missing Link, B.O.B. and Insectosaurus.

Parents of a certain age, who may take their kids to this film, will get a kick out of the homages, references, and allusions to such A and B-list 50s sci-fis as “The Blob” (with Steve McQueen), “The Fly,” The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and other flicks they had seen when they were boys and girls.

Less successful are the efforts of the creators of “Monsters Vs. Aliens” to give its gang of misfit monsters distinct personalities, while satirizing those kinds of films at the same time. End result is a film with not sufficiently engaging secondary creatures and a slight narrative that could have been sharper and more invigorating.
In this story, the wedding of California girl Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) to TV weatherman Derek (Paul Rudd) is interrupted by a crashing meteor. Poor girl: Infected by its contents, she undergoes an unbelievable growth. Clobbered by space gunk, she mysteriously grows to be 49-feet-11-inches tall (take note, she is one inch short of 50-inch-tall).
Alarmed, the military puts her into a secret government compound renamed Ginormica. Susan/Ginormica is held there captive along with a group of Monsters that includes the brilliant but diminutive Dr. Cockroach, P.D. (Hugh Laurie); the macho half-ape, half-fish, The Missing Link (Will Arnett),

“Destroy All Monsters!” is the mission of the hostile interlopers, and it’s also the title of the 1968 Japanese movie that puts numerous behemoths in one giant monster flick. When a wild and threatening alien robot lands on Earth, the weak President (Stephen Colbert) enlists this crew to save the world from imminent destruction. Set in the San Francisco area, the saga builds toward a showdown at the landmark site of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Though most of the incarcerated Monsters Susan/Ginormica meets in the secret military facility are offbeat, some are more intelligent and entertaining than others. Take Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., the most brilliant scientist in the world who’s a cockroach, a result of a self-experiment gone awry. With his life’s work confiscated, he now spends his time working on something diabolical, as all mad scientists do in such pictures.
Like former DreamWorks animations, “Monsters Vs. Aliens” is light and amusing fare with a big and broad ideological message: female empowerment. (If memory serves, most recent animations have centered on boys/men). It’s the kind of value that the girls in the audience would readily embrace and the boys probably won’t mind, not least because it’s embodied by the lovely Witherspoon, a resourceful and appealing figure. Sporting white-platinum hair (a la Harlow?) and revealing a shapely figure through some provocatively split outfits, Witherspoon dominates the proceedings–and all the other characters.
The amiable concept, light, nostalgic tone, and fun quotient speak well of box-office success, and I won’t be surprised if “Monsters Vs. Aliens” becomes the first chapter in a new franchise, now that the narrative possibilities of “Shrek” seem to have been exhausted.

Cast of Voices:
Susan/Ginormica – Reese Witherspoon
B.O.B. –
Seth Rogen
Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. – Hugh Laurie
The Missing LinkWill Arnett
Gen. W.R. Monger – Kiefer Sutherland
Galaxhar – Rainn Wilson
Derek Dietl – Paul Rudd
The President – Stephen Colbert
A Paramount release of a DreamWorks Animation presentation.


Produced by Lisa Stewart.

Co-producers, Jill Hopper Desmarchelier, Latifa Ouaou.

Directed by Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon.
Screenplay, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky, Letterman, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger; story, Letterman, Vernon.

Editors, Joyce Arrastia, Eric Dapkewicz.

Music, Henry Jackman.

Production designer, David James; art directors, Scott Wills, Michael Isaak.

Visual effects supervisor, Ken Bielenberg; head of character animation, David Burgess; head of layout, Damon O’Beirne; sound designer, Erik Aadahl; sound editor, Ethan van der Ryn.

sort of a humanoid/amphibian fusion; the gelatinous and indestructible one-eyed B.O.B. (Seth Rogen); and the 350-foot grub Insectosaurus, who’s almost seven times taller than the female newcomer.