Monsters vs Aliens cheerfully converts the two major sources of cinematic terror—invaders from outer space and inhuman, ungodly terrestrial creatures—into wacky, goofy, familiar figures. The movie, directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon from a many-authored script, comes out of DreamWorks Animation and offers the latest twist on the easygoing, parodic formula refined in the studio’s Shrek franchise and last year’s Kung Fu Panda.
Just as Shrek and its successors pushed aside the sweet enchantment of traditional fairy-tale movies in favour of belching and winking (with a saving spoonful of sugar at the end), so does Monsters vs Aliens turn fright and apocalypse into strenuous, noisy, 3D fun.
Giant robot: Susan encounters an alien. DreamWorks Animation Llc/Paramount Pictures via Bloomberg
The film, like Coraline and Bolt, tries to take 3D technology beyond gimmickry and make it the basis for a new kind of visual spectacle. Since not all theatres are equipped to show the movie this way, it has to work in its flat version as well, and perhaps partly as a result, the effects are often subtle, noticeable less when objects or characters jump off the screen than when they move laterally across it.
Monsters vs Aliens is no better than most family-friendly animated entertainment, but there does seem to be more of it. Everything looks bigger and rounder. The environment is deeper and thicker. The blob of blue goo with one eye and Seth Rogen’s voice is more palpably, quiveringly slimy. His affable stoner vibe is the best thing in Monsters vs Aliens.
Perhaps this isn’t in itself enough reason to see it. Don’t get me wrong—the movie is not terrible. On the contrary, it is a highly competent, smartly engineered delivery system for the very clichés it pretends to subvert. The most surprising of these may be the romantic-comedy convention of an interrupted wedding, an apparent disaster that will, of course, turn out to be a blessing. This is because the would-be bride, Susan (Reese Witherspoon), is a charming young woman betrothed to a self-absorbed cad (Paul Rudd), whose eventual comeuppance provides a nice, sequel-enabling coda after the crazy action sequences.
These involve a battle between some monsters, including Susan—who, I should mention, has a mishap that makes her grotesquely gigantic, though since the movie’s sense of scale is wildly inconsistent, it’s hard to say just how gigantic—and what is technically only one alien, a many-legged, many-eyed intergalactic imperialist, voiced by Rainn Wilson. San Francisco is destroyed, and a few other kind of cool things happen, but in spite of its striving for visual novelty, the movie is curiously unmemorable, partly because nearly all its humour depends on your having seen something like it before, even if you haven’t. Everyone goes whirling through the air, fires off some wisecracks and generally has a good time. You probably will too, even if you feel a little cheated in the end.
©2009/The New York TimesMonsters vs Aliens released in theatres on Friday.
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