The Night Out: Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009), or Why DO All UFOs Land In America?

29 03 2009

I think that if we looked at the world of computer-animated movies like a map highlighting the the world’s wealthiest nations, we would find Pixar to be America, Dreamworks to be China, and all of the independent studios to be Haiti. If we were looking at a pie chart that showed which studio was imbuing the most quality and class into the industry, however, we would probably be looking at a solid color circle. Because when it comes to these computer animated children’s features, Pixar is the studio making movies that will last. Wall-E, The Incredibles, and Toy Story, while not all particularly my cup of tea, are indisputably well made and will stand the test of time with their simple but powerful messages, their exquisite scores, and their beautiful animation and character design. They create modern classics that are technically proficient and well crafted, but here’s my gripe with them. They’re not really that funny. They set up an awful lot of jokes, but most of them are cute rather than outright funny. And, trust me, I can live with a joke that is at least cute (it’s when it falls flat and suffocates to death that I start to dislike the movie). But when I want funny in my children’s films, I’ll go to Dreamworks. Dreamworks is infamous for their spotty track record, their dated pop culture references, and the use of pop music in their scores, which is risky to say the least. But, bottom line, for every Shark Tale or Over The Hedge they make, they will make a genuinely funny movie like Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of The Were-Rabbit or today’s feature, Monsters Vs. Aliens, that might not age very well but made me laugh long enough to forget I was watching a kids movie.

Here’s the gist. Susan Murphy is your average, everyday woman who just so happens to be getting married. She is marrying Derek Dietl, a weatherman who seems a little preoccupied with his occupation, but a somewhat affable schlub at first glance. She is outside of the chapel after a talk with Derek about moving to Fresno for a job opportunity that’s more about his ego than their happiness (jerk) when disaster strikes. A giant glowing blue meteor comes hurtling down from the sky, completely crushing her. But when a bridesmaid comes out to see her, she is found to be unharmed. Strange, but not as strange as the ceremony, when she starts glowing blue and growing exponentially! She grows to titanic size, demolishing the church and freaking out all the guests. A secret government division intervenes in the situation, sedating her with a giant hypodermic needle and taking her away. She awakes later and finds herself in a giant government collective where monsters are kept for experimentation and research. She finds herself in a room with the Missing Link, a mad scientist who turned himself into a half-man half-cockroach, a blob that was created from genetically engineered tomato (?), and a 350 foot-tall grub who came from nuclear radiation. They all think that they are going to rot in the facility for as long as they live, which makes Susan incredibly depressed considering she was getting married only a couple hours before this whole accident occurred. But their chance for escape might be coming soon, because an alien threat, in the form of a giant robot, has threatened Earth, and the President is turning to the desperate situation of turning monsters against the aliens. Little do they know that it is the power of the meteorite that landed on Susan that the alien presence desires…

It’s a very straightforward picture. Everything is incredibly formulaic and it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. It is your typical “regular person turns into a freak, finds freaky friends who are better than normal friends, but can’t cope with that fact right away so person ostracizes freaky friends before finally realizing that different might not be such a bad thing and embraces change over stuffy normal life” scenario. This is essentially the plot of 80% of all animated features for kids nowadays, and we’ll just have to live with it at this point. Pixar made a film called Cars which is essentially the same scenario as this. The difference between that movie and this, again, is comedy.

I think that the comedy comes primarily from the superb voice acting. Let me exclude Reese Witherspoon from this statement, as she did nothing spectacular enough playing Susan to merit a laugh. Seth Rogen might just be the funniest guy out there right now, and him lending his signature voice to this movie adds a lot. He plays B.O.B., the blob, and he KILLS! He is so funny! He had all the best lines, and his completely inexplicable laugh just makes me laugh with its candid exuberance. Will Arnett is the Missing Link, and probably the only main cast member who actually changes his voice for the character. He sounds like a wannabe badass and a bit of a horndog, which is weird when you see him and realize he’s a knock-off of the Creature From the Black Lagoon, but he gets an A for effort. And who can forget Stepen Colbert as the President? He is awesome, as usual, and a very believable clueless Commander-in-Chief. Tossed together with lines like, “Boys, set the terror level at code brown, ’cause I need to change my pants!” and an absolutely hilarious Invisible Man joke (I wept tears of joy at this scene), the funny comes a long way to heal the broken script.

It’s not entirely memorable, and it will certainly not stand the test of time, but I laughed long and hard at Monsters Vs. Aliens, and that has to count for something. I know that this is just one in a string of cookie-cutter animated summer movies deigned to suck dollars from the kiddies with its 3-D capabilities and bright color pallet (I saw it in 3-D, and it was a lot of fun that way), but this one I believe will stand out of the crowd for its wit and its talented cast. Check it out if you have a kid with a good personality and an oddball, more adult sense of humor or if you don’t have kids and just want to revel in your freedom (like me! LIBERTY!!!).  I give Monsters Vs. Aliens 7 genetically engineered tomatoes out of 10.

Tomorrow we take on the action film with Bloodsport!

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