Friday, April 3, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

I generally try to avoid being a fanboy, but Pixar makes doing so nigh impossible. Setting aside A Bug's Life and Cars they've produced in Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL•E a filmography of staggering quality, and while it's a cliché to open the review of a DreamWorks movie by ranking animation studios, here it is: watching Monsters vs. Aliens, I had a few chuckles, I found a couple action scenes amusing and the animation attractive, but the experience paled badly next to any given Pixar film.

The comparison isn't apropos of nothing; the second act of Monsters vs. Aliens is spent with a superpowered team trying to stop a giant robot rampaging through a city, you know, EXACTLY like the climax of The Incredibles, and once you hew that closely, juxtaposition is fair game. Only two of the titular monsters are even vaguely memorable, the villain is about as menacing as a Powerpuff Girls villain of the week (he's no Syndrome from The Incredibles), too much of the comedy leans on the old DreamWorks staple of hoary pop culture references, and the action scenes are vibrant and colorful but not a patch on the thrilling creativity of, again, The Incredibles.

To be fair, there were a handful of things I enjoyed. The protagonist Susan a.k.a. Ginormica the fifty foot woman is sympathetic and well-fleshed out in the first act, and it's a nice change of pace to have a female lead in this sort of film. The gelatinous monster B.O.B. is easily the movie's highlight thanks both to cool powers and Seth Rogen's infectiously gleeful line readings which earn twice the laughs the script seems to offer him. I enjoyed the villain's giant robot if only for its epic scale and some of the 3D effects were cool despite their inherent, inescapable nature as novelty.

But all in all Monsters vs. Aliens is very much a blown-up Saturday morning cartoon episode with better animation. I'm not exactly surprised but I am slightly let down, because I thought DreamWorks' 2008 movie Kung Fu Panda was their best since Antz. It wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch but it stepped it up in characterization, artistry, style, and above all comedy, lacking a single cheap pop culture gag. In contrast, my heart sank as the US President in Monsters vs. Aliens spent a painful two minutes of screentime trying to make contact with the aliens by playing "Axel F" from Beverly Hills Cop on an electronic keyboard. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

2 Stars out of 5

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