On the one hand, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is a totally formulaic computer animated comedy, the sort of feature that has flooded the market since the success of “Shrek.” There are pop culture and political references for the grown-ups and silly/gross action for the kiddies that combine for a bland, forgettable evening at the cinema.
On the other hand, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is a genre-busting technical achievement akin to “Toy Story” or “Snow White” in its cinematic ambition. This movie must be seen in 3-D to truly appreciate the progress that Dreamworks has made with the 3-D format and understand the excitement within the industry with regard to the third dimension.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” opens at the wedding of Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) and Derek Dietel (Paul Rudd); Susan is a withering flower while Derek is a hard-charging, self-obsessed news anchor who treats his fiancee’s concerns as secondary to his own. Their special day is ruined after Susan is struck by a meteorite that transforms her into a 50-foot woman.
Captured by the Army and rechristened “Ginormica” by Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), Susan is imprisoned with a menagerie of other “monsters” held in a secret prison in order to keep the general public from freaking out.
There’s B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a gelatinous Blob lookalike who manages to operate without a brain, and Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who combined his DNA with that of the bug in order to gain its survival skills. Half man, half lizard, the Missing Link (Will Arnett) and the Godzilla-esque Insectosaurus round out the team.
They must come together to repel an alien invasion by the maniacal Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), and in the process come to grips with their place in a world that fears and hates them.
The voice work is uniformly good. Mr. Rogen stands out, and those who enjoy Stephen Colbert’s shtick will dig his turn as a pompous president full of false bravado: He plays the role as if the anchor of “The Colbert Report” had ascended to the presidency.
The real reason to see this movie, however, is the stunning 3-D craftsmanship. This is the first computer animated movie that was authored in 3-D, as opposed to having the 3-D effect created in post-production, and the difference shows. There’s a depth of field to the movie that is eye-opening.
3-D may have been used to greater artistic effect in Coraline,” but it has never looked this clear or this clean: The computer generated images are in perfect sync and expertly crafted, leading to a flawless 3-D image. Those whose curiosity has been piqued by the explosion of 3-D films in recent months but have yet to take the leap can’t go wrong making “Monsters vs. Aliens” their first experience with this burgeoning genre.
TITLE: “Monsters vs. Aliens”
RATING: PG (science-fiction action, some crude humor and mild language)
CREDITS: Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes