Animated films; to an extent; have grown stale in the last few years. The technological wow factor of CGI that used to be the new and wonderful thing turns 19 this year. Many of them are bogged down too much in slapstick or low brow comedy that pulls in the younger audiences while the older ones sit and wonder when the credits will roll. Every once in a while though, the studios get it right and a film breaks through that. Pixar it seems has written the book on doing that. Other animated film companies like DreamWorks, has been hit or miss since the original Shrek. But with the release of Monsters Vs. Aliens, they might just have rediscovered the lost formula for success.
Anyone who is a fan of the old sci-fi monster films from the 40s - 60s will really enjoy this film. There are so many little references and homages that will likely be lost on younger viewers; but that’s ok. The brilliance of this and most truly great animated features is that they draw in the entire audience from the young to the old. In fact, there are so many references that you'll probably not notice them all upon the first viewing. There are plenty of high brow jokes that the younger members of the audience will probably not understand, but parents and adults will be rolling with laugher after hearing them, which is the only way that you can make an animated film truly great.
The film is really an ensemble piece, with great voice acting all around, but no one person shining above the others. However, the main character of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) serves as the human guide through the story that involves almost as many non-human characters. Susan, through an interesting event, becomes 50 feet tall and is captured by the government and placed in holding with other monsters. "The Missing Link" a play on the Creature from the Black Lagoon, voiced by Will Arnett (Hot Rod). Dr. Cockroach Ph.D., voiced by Hugh Laurie (House) an homage back to the "Fly". B.O.B., basically the blob, voiced by Seth Rogan (Superbad). And a giant caterpillar-like bug known as Insectasaurus; a play on Godzilla, who does not speak, simply makes noises.
Other notable voice performances include Stephen Colbert as the President of the United States, Kiefer Sutherland (24) as General W.R.Monger and the Office's Rain Wilson as the villain Gallaxhar. Colbert is relatively funny as the President; but it almost seems as if the casting decision was made so audiences would get a chuckle over the irony rather than his actual abilities. The character's look and mannerisms are actually funnier than any of the lines that Colbert delivers.
One of the pieces of the film that isn't getting talked about NEARLY as much as it should is the 3-D. The film was shot in "true 3D" as DreamWorks is calling it. Films that were in 3-D before this one were all movies that were transformed into 3D after they had been created. This film however, was built from the ground up to be a 3-D film, and actually making a 3-D film 2-D is very easy so there won't b any issues on the DVD release.
And the 3-D is not just a throw away gimmick used to show dirt coming at the screen or something. Everything is affected by the 3-D and it is spectacular. You've never seen it like this. It is something that needs to be seen. Don't wait for this movie to come out on DVD. Find a 3-D theatre (preferably IMAX) near you and go see it. You won't be disappointed. While the technological leap is not nearly as big as when Toy Story premiered as the first CGI animated film; it may in time, be looked back upon as the moment when 3-D filmmaking became accepted and animated filmmaking evolved further.
Admittedly some of the characters are a little one dimensional. Actually, the only character that we really get any kind of true background and growth of is Susan. Yet the film is so funny and each of the characters brings something to the table that you'll be able to look past. Hopefully in any potential sequels we'll get more characterization of the other main players. Though I'm not sure how you can provide characterization and introspection for a character (Insectasaurus) that can't speak.
Nonetheless, I found myself totally enraptured with really all of the characters. They embody their old-Hollywood counterparts uniquely with little twists to their personalities that create great humor out of what was originally supposed to be a scary or frightening character.
The plot itself is relatively formulaic, and if you've been to any animated film you can almost guess where things might be going. But it’s not really about the journey here. It’s about the characters. When the final frames pass by the screen you'll wish you had more time to spend with them, as I did.
Monsters vs. Aliens is an example of when Hollywood gets things right. Instead of remaking old films that were wonderful to begin with; DreamWorks took what was great and beloved about those films and paid homage to them in a fun creative way. That's what Monsters vs. Aliens is all about. Here's to hoping that we get to see a sequel with more homage’s to Hollywood's glorious past, and more fun with these terrific characters.
Score: 8.4 out of 10
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