Dreamworks has always played second banana to Pixar in the CGI "War to End All Wars" and with their most recent entry Monsters vs. Aliens they maintain the same funky, funny, popcorny vibe as defined by their other entries like the Shrek franchise. You know, a few jokes for the kiddies, a few for the parents in trail, throw in a couple of stunning action sequences, a wee bit of pathos as our main character overcomes his or her insecurities, sprinkle with pop-culture references and repeat ad nauseam.
This isn't to say there is anything wrong with this formula, and to Dreamworks' credit, they've managed to successfully tweak and finesse these same elements to give their content a feeling of comfortableness even though the plot and characters are new. The only real flaw in Monsters vs. Aliens and this formula is time. 94 minutes is just a tad short for the ambitiousness of the story.
The story revolves around Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) on the eve of her wedding to Derek Deitl (Paul Rudd) is squished by a glowing green meteorite and before you can say "do you take this women to be your lawfully wedded wife," she's grown to over 50 feet and accidentally smashed up the church. Baffled and afraid, she's subdued by the military and awakens in a big steel room. This cell, or group of cells, house the other monsters that in the last 50 years have been captured and stored away by General Monger (Keifer Sutherland).
As an aficionado of 50's science fiction films, and the Showa Japanese boom, I happily recognized the genre tropes on display here in stunning 3D (which we'll discuss more at the end of this review), the monsters in storage are:
Dr. Cockroach PHD. (Hugh Laurie), A mad scientists who, in a The Fly-like flashback, tries to give humanity the longevity of a cockroach. He succeeds by becoming a man with a cockroach head and cockroach agility.
B.O.B. (Seth Rogan). A literally brainless blue blob with one eye who was the byproduct of a snack food company attempting to play god, well, snack food god at least.
Link (Will Arnett), "The Missing Link" actually an unfrozen prehistoric half man half fish who was captured on a Party Beach like rampage and looks sort of like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Insectosaurus, a 350 foot tall fuzzy caterpillar monster modeled on Mothra and captured after a rampage in Japan.
The government renames Susan as "Ginormica" and explains that she can't ever leave the base because if the truth about the existence of monsters was known it would cause country wide panic.
We only get a little tiny bit of Susan/Ginormica struggling to come to grips with her situation before the plot really gets going, that is, the plot dealing with The Aliens. See, back in the very beginning on the film, before the credits, before we met Susan, before we even knew about the wedding, there was this meteor. Now, chasing this meteor down is Galaxhar (Rainn Wilson) who wants a substance contained within the meteorite. The computer (Amy Poelher) has tracked the meteorite to Earth and Galaxhar gives chase. And sends an advanced force consisting of a towering giant robot to seek out the meteorite.
Back on Earth, Susan clings to the only thing she was allowed to take with her into the base, her love for Derek. She's convinced that he'll be there for her when she's cured, whenever that is, and that no matter how bad things get she can always count on his love to get her through the worst of times.
And, in the law of CGI films we know this to be patently untrue and that learning of this untruth will finally punt Ginormica on her way to the final third of the film where she embraces her embiggenedness and becomes both a monster and a hero.
Just when Susan is adapting to her life behind bars, the robot crash lands near San Francisco. When attempts to communicate fail and the robot begins a very Godzilla-like rampage, General Monger convinces The President to let the Monsters have a shot at bringing the robot down.
Thus, in exchange for their help, General Monger promises freedom for Susan and the others.
There, that's all I'm saying.
The voice acting was excellent throughout and the script, while a little annoying with regard to anything where The President of the United States (Steven Colbert) was shown was mostly breezy and sort of funny. B.O.B. gets all the best lines.
Even compared to earlier, mind-blowing, Pixar films, Monsters vs. Aliens ratchets up the quality a few notches. The "Real 3D" process really ads to the experience too: From the first few seconds floating in space to the monumental battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, Monsters vs, Aliens just pops. It's such a treat in 3D that I can't even imagine seeing it in regular 2D.
Strangely, I find myself wondering if I'd have liked Coraline more if I'd watched it in 3D.
I dragged my kids, Ian (7) and Meg (4) to Monsters vs. Aliens and they loved every goofy frame of it, admittedly, they are both so steeped in giant monster movies I'm surprised they don't speak fluent Japanese.