Movie Review: Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009)

You've heard of TV’s Bridezillas, the multiplex’s Bride Wars, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, along with the horror classic Bride of Frankenstein.

But this week we meet an entirely new bride in DreamWorks Animation’s brand-new 3-D feature length film Monsters Vs. Aliens as the petite Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon plays a Modesto, California girl who unwittingly morphs into the kiddie version of "The Attack Of the Nearly 50-Foot Woman" after getting slimed by meteor residue just before she's set to walk down the aisle.

While initially her beaming glow is mistaken for her wedding day excitement, soon Susan (Witherspoon) quickly grows into the 49 to 11 inch tall “Ginormica” before our military intervenes, a tranquilizer dart hits the target and she's whisked away to a secret governmental holding cell for “monsters” currently supervised 24/7 by Uncle Sam.

Befriending other creatures also residing in the prison-like atmosphere (despite a feeble attempt to ease Susan’s nerves with a retro kitty “Hang in There” poster for her cell), soon the young woman becomes acquainted with the rest of the film’s genre fitting group of lovable eccentrics.

Headed up by the Ph.D insect Dr. Cockroach (House’s Hugh Laurie), Arrested Development’s hilarious Will Arnett as a half-fish, half-ape gung-ho monster dubbed The Missing Link, the scene-stealing Seth Rogen (Kung Fu Panda, Pineapple Express) as the adorable but dim-witted blue blob aptly dubbed B.O.B. which DreamWorks notes is “short for benzoate-ostylezene-bicarbonate” and the enormous Insectosaurus—soon the X-Men meets Dirty Dozen gang of unlikely outsider underdogs is called upon when the evil alien mastermind Gallaxhar (The Office’s Rainn Wilson) sends an ominous robot to the planet Earth set on destruction.

In addition to see the filmmakers’ easily identifiable B movie influences from the monster and alien movie heyday of the cold-war era 1950s along with “the style of poster art of the genre,” and “Mad Magazines of the period,” as the DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures press release reveals that savvy Mad Magazine and ‘50s film enthusiasts will “recognize the homage to these sources during the war room playback of archival footage of the pre-capture sprees of Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., The Missing Link, B.O.B. and Insectosaurus,” cinematic referential jokes fill the entire film with shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Dr. Strangelove, The Dirty Dozen, The Blob, and countless other movies running throughout.

This is especially the case in the heavily Dr. Strangelove inspired relationship between the animated films president voiced by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and Kiefer Sutherland’s dynamically creative and surprisingly laugh-out-loud funny launch away from 24’s intense and “whispery” heroic Jack Bauer into a “country accent,” as director Rob Letterman muses, “he just started screaming at the top of his lungs… [and] broke out into something brand new and that really nailed the character.”

Similar to the highly successful blending of adult and child friendly humor that's made DreamWorks Animation’s hits such as Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda such a success—it’s the great and lively ensemble that helps add flavor to the film’s story-line that’s ultimately a bit simplistic and straightforward despite the fact that this flaw is hidden extraordinarily well by its stunning 3-D animation and mind boggling action sequences.

Although I think the film may not have been quite as enjoyable without the 3-D which amazes right from the start-- aside from the fact that it has some very positive morals woven throughout as those whose society have named “monsters” end up being the ones to save the day and Susan discovers that her previous ambition to become the picture-perfect and tirelessly supportive wife of her self-involved fiance Derek (Paul Rudd) pales in comparison to her own goals when she begins to believe in herself and what she has to offer as a human being.

The first film served up by the studio in “Tru 3D,” and unlike some of the more gimmicky 3-D films in recent memory, the format perfectly fits this material. This it does in not only reviving that same drive-in B-movie feel for which the filmmakers were aiming but it also brings to mind the idea of once again making filmgoing a true experience.

With increasingly impressive home theater technology including Blu-ray and lifelike video game systems, the box office has taken quite a hit and so it makes perfect sense that just like when television kept viewers in their homes in the 1950s prompting studios to create widescreen, Vistavision, Cinemascope, Cinerama, and 3-D-- once again Hollywood is taking a cue from lessons learned in the past in terms of not just subject matter (as the 50s truly were the era of monsters and aliens) but style as well.

The film will be available in various versions from 2-D to 3-D to 3-D IMAX and it should be interesting as time will tell just how successful the film and indeed this medium is when it reaches viewers at home via DVD and Blu-ray. And admittedly while the level of writing doesn’t match the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of the other departments involved in Monsters that we’ve come to expect from the studio that recently gave us the incredibly witty Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Kung Fu Panda, it’s sure to be one of the first major blockbusters of 2009 and one that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen to be best appreciated.

However, this being said-- as far as "monsters" are concerned, I still hold those wise-cracking and power-absorbing huggable characters from Pixar's Monsters Inc. up as my favorite animated variety offered to families thus far in a wholly satisfying blend of animation and comedy.