DVD Review: Aliens in the Attic (2009)

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AKA: They Came From Upstairs

Like most precocious kids caught between Generation X and Y, I came-of-age not just with an overactive imagination but perhaps with a bit too much access to popular culture. Needless to say, it didn't take much too much stimuli to give this particular Jennifer (in a neighborhood of so many others) literal-- and not R.L. Stine induced-- goosebumps.

Of course, the fact that my childhood was spent living in the protective bubble of Midwestern suburbia where the most frequent terror we faced was a bully on a school bus did little to comfort my groundless fears as a natural born “fraidy cat” who ironically is also afraid of cats.

Whenever I heard a noise, my knee-jerk response was always to tell a grown-up, which sometimes actually coincided with the very real feeling of a knee-jerk as I jumped a foot because of a creak in a floor board, a blustery day fitting of Winnie the Pooh, or Mr. Rogers' tune “you can never go down the drain" which I found extremely suspicious since if it wasn't even a possibility, then why was he bringing it up?

Dutifully humoring me, my considerate parents, big brother, uncles or neighbors would always go on flashlight patrol, looking underneath bedskirts and behind couches until I was satisfied that nothing had either sneaked into the house or had actually come up and out of the drain.

However, instead of the old Simon and Garfunkel “Mrs. Robinson” lyric to “hide it from the kids” as parents gamely protected us by investigating the stuffed animals in our closet, in director John Schultz's inventive family charmer, it's the kids who “have to hide it from the parents,” therefore protecting the entire human race from being enslaved by the Aliens in the Attic.

Conceived by one of the creative storytelling minds of Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Madagascar scribe Mark Burton, the film that was originally entitled They Came from Upstairs was inspired by Burton's hypothetical of “what if” something real was going on when kids overtake the rooms upstairs to stage intricate battles in afternoon games while the adults simply failed to notice.

Obviously, Burton's clever concept about adults unaware that play time has been now devoted to policing the planet is creative enough by premise alone and actually worked better than his children's giggle/thrill fest Wallace and Gromit that was missing some of the charm found in creator Nick Park's original Oscar winning animated short films.

Even more refreshing was the fact that despite debuting in a year where CGI aliens have been showing up endlessly in family entertainment via the intellectually inferior but ironically bigger budgeted efforts Monsters vs. Aliens and Shorts, this unfortunately under-publicized yet terrifically underrated summer family comedy proved to be the only one I'd wholeheartedly recommend.

Co-scripted by a contributor to Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Production Adam F. Goldberg, Attic boasts a wide range of comedic talent including Kevin Nealon, Andy Richter, Tim Meadows, Thomas Hayden Church, J.K. Simmons and popular High School Musical trilogy alumni Ashley Tisdale.

While the humor runs the gamut from a few crude sight gags to some nice plays on words, overall, I was impressed that the production manged to place equal-- if not greater-- emphasis on its screenplay than it did on simply ensuring that Everybody Loves Raymond matriarch Doris Roberts would be able to high kick with the best of them when “Nana” is taken over by the aliens in a memorable visual effects battle.

Moreover, it benefits immensely when Burton's original intention of a child friendly science fiction comedy of reversed age roles is combined with the backdrop of John Hughes era extended family gatherings a la the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise starring Chevy Chase as the father who lives to bond, Clark W. Griswold.

Initially the film seemed to be an update of The Great Outdoors, Home Alone and Christmas Vacation as a group of cousins varying in age are uprooted from their technologically dependent lives to spend part of their summer at a lake place in the Midwestern boonies. There they encounter the tiny green CGI men who've invaded their attic and discover they're definitely not alone and the worst part is, if they tell their parents about the aliens, then they could get turned against them.

Thus, it's up to the kids to rid their attic of intergalactic creatures before they cross paths with the adults. Admittedly, the last act of the movie seems to lose some of the energy provided in the irresistibly odd introduction to the characters. Yet thanks to its succinct running time and upbeat presentation, it's easy to forgive.

Praised by The Dove Foundation, which routinely recommends quality family fare, Schultz's movie seasons the action with some well-earned touching moments as the kids put aside their differences to ensure their parents won't get “zapped” during what would traditionally be suburban flashlight patrol.

An infectious sleeper that essentially sneaked downstairs from Fox's own attic of impressive family movies, Aliens in the Attic makes you want to revert to the raving cat (instead of fraidy cat) of your childhood to tell others about the great Aliens you heard rattling around the Attic.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard practice for film critics, I received a review copy of the movie, minus the aliens and Doris Roberts' martial arts training to use for this article.