Review of Monsters vs. Aliens

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Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland and John Krasinski all voice characters for this animated 3-D adaptation of the popular comic-book series. When a meteorite from outer space hits a young woman (Witherspoon) and turns her into a giant monster, she is taken to a secret government compound where she meets others like her who have been rounded up over the years. Under the guidance of General W.R. Monger, the motley crew of Monsters is ultimately called in to combat the human-hating aliens before they can destroy the world.
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Movie Review: "Monsters vs Aliens"

-- Rating: PG
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: March 27, 2009
Directed by: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Genre: Action/Adventure

"Monsters vs Aliens" is an American animated film produced by DreamWorks Animation. It was made directly in stereoscopic 3D format rather than being converted to a 3D format after the film's completion, a process that accounted for $15 million of the film's $175 million budget. "Monsters vs Aliens" features voices from celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Will Arnett, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Conrad Vernon. Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon have also made animated feature films such as "Shrek 2" and "Shark Tale."

Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is about to get married to Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd), a superficial weather reporter, when a meteorite containing the fictional substance quantonium strikes her. She quickly grows to a height of fifty feet, towering over everyone at the wedding. The military soon arrives and captures Susan, taking her to a top-secret facility with other monsters. These include B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless, gelatinous blob who is almost indestructible; Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who accidentally turned himself into a cockroach; the Missing Link (Will Arnett), a combination of an amphibian, fish, and ape; and Insectosaurus, a giant caterpillar who is bigger than the enormous Susan.

Meanwhile, the evil alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) has detected the quantonium from the meteorite and dispatched a giant robot to retrieve it. The dim-witted President of the United States (Stephen Colbert) tries to communicate with the robot but instead makes it angry, causing the robot to go on a rampage of destruction. The President then summons Susan and the other monsters to defend Earth from the robot, promising to release them if they are successful.

The monsters defeat the robot in a battle that destroys much of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge. Susan returns home to marry Derek but he calls the wedding off, saying he doesn't want to marry a freak who will overshadow him. Susan is beginning to embrace her role as a monster when Gallaxhar abducts her and extracts the quantonium that is still in her body. Gallaxhar uses the quantonium to create a clone army that he plans to use to invade Earth. The other monsters must rescue Susan so that the united team can stop Gallaxhar from conquering the Earth.

This film breaks sharply with the tradition in many animated films of making the characters resemble their voice actors. This difference gives it a fresh feel compared with previous Dream Works films. The primary exception to this general rule is the President, who bears a noticeable resemblance to Colbert.

The primary voice actors deliver their lines effectively without going over the top with emotion, as sometimes happens in animation. Reese Witherspoon conveys cheerfulness or determination as needed, and Seth Rogen's voice is an especially good match for the brainless blob B.O.B.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" is set in the present day, although it contains many riffs on alien monster films from the 1950s such as "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." The movie also references many other films and television shows. For example, Susan's code name of Ginormica is a nod to classic B movies, where the monster routinely receives a melodramatic moniker. The filmmakers of "Monsters vs. Aliens" provide film references in rapid-fire succession, making it difficult to keep up with them. The most obvious references include those to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "King Kong," and "E.T."

The female characters in the film generally have strong personalities. Susan's character in particular is reminiscent of the independent Belle from "Beauty and the Beast." These independent traits are particularly obvious because all the human males in the film are dimwits, wimps, or loudmouths.

Children will enjoy the frantic pace of the film, which includes some clever set pieces. For example, one chase scene involves Susan using cars as skates to speed through the hills of San Francisco. This is a surprising change for DreamWorks, which has avoided this level of gags in its previous films. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is packed with visual gags that will keep children entertained. At the same time, adults will stay busy trying to identify the sources of the cultural references.

Even the dramatic scenes have a visual playfulness that draws in audiences. For example, the alien spaceship looks like an egg timer rather than an imposing vessel of destruction. The violence in this film is the kid-safe variety with lots of property damage but no injuries to people.

Rating: 3 out of 5