Monsters vs. Aliens (****)

Monsters vs. Aliens
Monsters vs. Aliens

When it comes to animated movies, Pixar (and likewise Disney) has set the gold standard with pretty much anything they spit out. Whether it’s “Toy Story” (1995) or “Wall-E” (2008), the CGI animation studio in Emeryville, California is a lock for critical acclaim and box office success. They could make a movie about a pair of talking underpants and people would stream to the cinema to soak it up.

Even with all glory, laud and honor going to the studio whose logo is a squeaky lamp, you have to give DreamWorks Animation a tip of the hat. Not only are they behind the “Shrek” series, which has collectively grossed over two billion dollars ($2,198,809,199 to be exact), but they’ve also turned out two successful “Madagascar” movies and last summer’s charming “Kung Fu Panda.” And there’s more to come. 2010 will boast “Shrek Goes Fourth” and 2011 will showcase “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

Maybe someone should call DreamWorks’ CEO Stacey Snider and see if they can loan the government some money to help with all the bailouts coming down the pike now and in the future. Everybody wants a loan nowadays. Of course, I’m kidding, but I’m not joking when I say DreamWorks is creeping up in Pixar’s rear view mirror. And after “Monsters vs. Aliens” hits theaters this weekend, they’ll be fogging up Lightning McQueen’s windows.

I wasn’t expecting much from “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Yeah, I saw the 3-D Super Bowl spots, but they were yawn-inducing, so I dismissed the movie and waited for more always-funny beer commercials. However, despite my ambivalence, I decided to take my five year-old son to the press screening. We risked life and limb driving through a blinding Sardine Canyon snowstorm, but it was worth it. I got to bond with my little guy and was positively surprised and enchanted with “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

The title pretty much gives the storyline away from the get-go and I like that. It means the story is simple and the reliance is placed on the novelty of the characters and the strength of the voice talent. One of the first characters we meet is Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon). She lives in Modesto, California and is just a breath away from getting married to her weatherman boyfriend (Paul Rudd), when she is hit by a “quantonium” filled meteor. This causes Susan to grow to nearly 50 feet tall and gives her immeasurable strength. It also causes her to be captured by the government and sent to a top secret military prison for “monsters.”

After her internment by the government, Susan is told by the warden/general (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) that her new name is Ginormica, and she’s introduced to four other monsters – The Missing Link (Will Arnett), Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), B.O.B. (Seth Rogan) and Insectosaurus. These characters are all parodies of the campy monster movies of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and combined this group meshes well to produce a hilarious camaraderie. One thing I loved about this group was there was no fighting and discord. They are friends throughout the movie, lookout for one another and show intense loyalty. This comes in handy, because the “aliens” they battle is actually one egocentric, clone-happy alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), who wants the quantonium back and wants to destroy and takeover Earth in the process.

And really, that’s about it as far as the story goes. It’s simple, clean and effective. The beauty of this animated movie is the voice talent and the fantastic computer animation delivered by DreamWorks. While the entire cast, from top-to-bottom, is strong and sturdy, I would definitely give extra applause to both Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line” and “Four Christmases”) and Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express”). Witherspoon has been off the radar as of late since her best actress Academy Award for “Walk the Line” and this is her second animated film (the first was “The Trumpet and The Swan”). Her voice works perfectly for Susan/Ginormica and I thought the character is a great one for young kids, especially young girls, to appreciate. Same goes for Seth Rogan. He could read entries from the dictionary and I’d probably double over laughing. His voice and timing are fantastic. Voice work in animation could become a bigger arena for him, perhaps headlining future features, as “Monsters vs. Aliens” marks his third outing in the CGI animated world (he was also in “Kung Fu Panda” and “Shrek the Third”).

I just can’t say enough good stuff about this movie. I loved “Monsters vs. Aliens.” It has enough embedded pop-culture and underhanded adult references (not to be confused with dirty innuendos and double entendres) to appeal to parents, and enough action and simple laughs to put a smile on your child’s face. It’s a fun show and definitely worth the full-price ticket this weekend.

View the trailer for “Monsters vs. Aliens” below:

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