Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“I come in peace, I mean you no harm, you're all going to die.” A Review of “Monsters Vs. Aliens”

I grew up in the 80's watching old science fiction played at odd times on various local television stations. “The War of the Worlds”, “The Fly” “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”, “The Blob”, etc; you name it, I probably watched it as a kid, and now Dream works has a new animated movie coming out that brings me back to my childhood days; “Monsters Vs. Aliens”.

The movie opens in beautiful Modesto, California where Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon: “Legally Blonde”,”Election”) is about to marry her weatherman sweetheart, Derek Dietel (Paul Rudd: “I Love You, Man”, “Knocked Up”) when she is suddenly and unexpectedly hit by a meteorite which gives her super strength, but also makes her grow to fifty feet in height.

Susan is quickly subdued by the government, and taken to a super secret facility under the watchful eye of General Warren Monger (Kiefer Sutherland: “24”, “Dark City”), and is introduced to her fellow monster movie stereotypes. There's Doctor Cockroach (Hugh Laurie: “House”, “Blackadder Goes Forth”), a scientist who crossed himself with a roach, B.O.B (Seth Rogen, “Superbad”, “Knocked Up”), a blob, The Missing Link (Will Arnett: “Arrested Development”, “Let's Go To Prison”), a prehistoric monsters thawed out by scientists, and Insectosaurus, a daikaiju from Japan.

The other monsters try to convince Susan, now dubbed Ginormica, that no one ever gets out of the base they have been imprisoned in, and this is true until an alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson: “The Office”, “Six Feet Under”) comes to Earth (America in particular, because where else do aliens land in movies?) searching for the substance that gave Ginormica her powers. After the president (Stephen Colbert: “The Colbert Report”) fails to make peaceful first contact with an electric keyboard, the monsters are called in to defeat the giant alien mecha now stomping its way towards San Francisco.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is its art style and character design; the world is vibrant, the vehicles in the film all have a very chunky almost toy-like quality to them, the characters look wonderful (although Susan seems to have been designed purely to be made into a Bratz-style doll), and everything has a wonderful sense of texture and realistic movement. Early in the film we see Susan in a jumpsuit when she is first captured by the government, and far from looking like it is painted on her like clothes tend to in computer animated films, this looks like she is wearing it, it bunches and folds as she moves like real clothes do. I was so taken by the quality of the animation in the film that I almost found it distracting at times.

After the art, the next thing to get my attention was the sheer amount of science fiction jokes in the movie, from the Dreamworks moon kid getting abducted by a flying saucer, to gags referencing everything from “E.T.” to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to “The Amazing Colossal Man” this movie's rapid fire humour brings me back to the first Shrek film. I am sure that on repeat viewings I will spot even more jokes that I missed the first time.

Of course you cannot talk about a computer animated feature film without comparing it to the gold standard, Pixar. As high quality as this film is, it is still not quite on the level of a Pixar film, but it is probably one of the best movies Dreamworks has released, certainly when compared to stuff like “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” or even the second and third Shrek films.

One thing I cannot comment on is the 3D effects. The screening I attended was not in 3D, but I could tell where the effects would be. The usual gags like someone playing a paddle ball towards the camera are present and accounted for, but there were also flying scene that will probably look stunning in 3D. I may actually have to go see this again in 3d just to get the full effect.

“Monsters Vs. Aliens” is likely to be the best family film out until “Up” is released. This is a great movie for all ages since it has a lot of jokes and references to movies, current events, and pop culture that will go right over kids heads, but will hit perfectly with parent. In other words, this is a movie that is appropriate for kids that will not make you feel like your IQ is dripping out your ears as you watch it. There is a good amount of violence, but it all has a very cartoony quality to it, and it is usually played for laughs (such as B.O.B. accidentally shooting an alien with its own raygun, and then looking very guilty about it afterwards), so if you don't have a problem with the sort of sci-fi violence you see in “Star Wars” then there should be no issues with this film.

Beautiful art, wonderful animation, a fantastic cast, and a script full of dialog that takes advantage of the cast as well as jokes that take advantage of the subject matter all combine together to make a movie that will keep kids and geeks alike laughing out loud. I definitely recommend seeing this film if you are any sort of science fiction fan. See who wins when the monsters battle aliens in theaters starting Friday, March 27

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