There’s no question that digital 3-D is here to stay. After many fits and starts to perfect the process since its introduction in the 1950s, the nut has finally been cracked where making it seem like fire is landing in your lap is concerned. Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens is no exception as the effects are top-notch, as it puts paddleballs in our faces and meteorites in our chests with aplomb. With the exception of Coraline from earlier this year, this is the best of the recent spate of 3-D features.
Too bad its story isn’t up to snuff, coming off as a Pixar retread with a striking lack of emotion. Taking a fond look back at the Sci-Fi flicks of the ‘50s, the film’s characters are all allusions to creatures that came to life in cinema’s nuclear age. The Missing Link (voice by Will Arnett), Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon) and Insectosaurus are not so distant cousins of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Fly, the Blob, the 50 Foot Woman and Godzilla and have all been captured and quarantined by the U.S. government. The Feds aren’t quite sure what to do with them, but they do know letting them wander about suburbia is a bad idea. However, when an alien invasion occurs, led by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) who needs to extract a key element from Ginormica in order to conquer the universe, the monsters are turned loose to stop the threat.
There’s a degree of urgency missing from the story and much of the humor is predictable and unimaginative, with the exception of Rogan’s B.O.B. who steals every scene he’s in. What sets the Pixar animated films (Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, etc.) apart is the human element that exists in each of them. The characters in those films are stand-ins for us as they grapple with problems so many of us face. Their trials become ours and the humanistic qualities they possess make us identify with their quests and invest in their stories. The five (yes, five!) screenwriters on hand here try to draw us in emotionally here with Ginormica, who only realizes that her fiancé is a lout and that her true place is with the genetic freaks who have become her family. The problem here is that it all comes off as a predetermined narrative exercise, hoops that the film is required to jump through before the character can find her true place.
Much of the story comes off as a tired background exercise that is used as an excuse to showcase the monsters that are a rather lackluster bunch. Dr. Cockroach’s humor is too dry for the kiddies and not witty enough for mom and dad, the potential to mine the humor behind the Missing Link being an anachronism is never explored and Ginormica is a bit of a whiner. Only Rogan seems to be having a good time here, giving B.O.B. a loony quality that makes this brainless, gelatinous wonder a real hoot. Give me a movie with nothing but B.O.B. and I’m there.
Monsters vs. Aliens is fun at times and the more you know about ‘50s sci fi flicks the more likely you are to get the many allusions to the film contains. Unfortunately, its lack of heart regulates it to being an in-your-face monster mash and nothing more.
Monsters vs. Aliens opens tomorrow at the Beverly and Savoy cinemas.
Runtime: 1 h 34 min – Rated PG – Animation