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Monsters vs. Aliens

By Cole Haddon | Posted 3/25/2009

Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

The title pretty much tells you what to expect from the latest DreamWorks Animation SKG product, even if the actual movie only partly lives up to that hype. Things kick off with a planetary detonation that sends an irradiated asteroid across the cosmos to Earth where, rather than become the one weakness of a superhero, it lands on a bride-to-be only minutes before her ceremony is to begin. Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) crawls out from underneath her would-be interplanetary doom and quickly grows to a svelte but somehow curvy 49-feet-11-inches tall. That number is key, since it makes clear she's not the 50-Foot Woman who attacked movie theaters back in 1958. Susan is subsequently seized by the government, and disappeared to a mysterious facility where other "monsters" have been housed for more than half a century. There's Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), who's definitely not the Fly; there's a gillman named the Missing Link (Will Arnett), who's definitely not the Creature from the Black Lagoon; there's the gelatinous B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), who's definitely not the Blob; and there's a 350-foot grub named Insectosaurous that's kind of a hybrid between Godzilla and Mothra, but definitely not either. To protect society, Susan--now codenamed Ginormica (again, not the 50-Foot Woman)--will be imprisoned with the other non-trademark-infringing characters. That is, until aliens--or rather, one alien--invades. Manmade weapons prove futile, so the powers that be, led by a hapless president (Stephen Colbert), recruit the monsters to take out the alien. Not plural, at least until he clones himself.

There's a good deal of fun to be had with this concept, especially from a company that's well known for its self-reflexive satires of pop culture (such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda). The filmmakers succeed to varying degrees, especially when it comes to poking fun at '50s and '60s B-movies, though while cinephiles and critics will dig it, the monster-film homages will be lost on younger audiences. Unlike Shrek or Panda, the referenced movies barely survive in pop culture today, which means it is absolutely necessary for the movie to work by itself. Luckily, it mostly does and when it doesn't, the embrace-your-inner-freak message of Susan/Ginormica's quest and the laughs generated from Laurie's, Arnett's, and Rogen's voice work keep the fun going. It's a shame more attention wasn't paid to the "aliens" side of the cinematic showdown, though, since the villain Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) feels no more threatening than Gazoo and the alien in-jokes are generally limited to Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. musical cues. Oh well, maybe in the inevitable sequel.

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