The Missing Link, Ginormica, B.O.B., Insectosaurus and Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. from Monsters vs. Aliens
Photo: DreamWorks Animation
DreamWorks Animation is obviously a serious player in CG-animated features. The Shrek franchise has earned the studio over $2 billion worldwide and the Madagascar franchise has topped $1 billion. Last year Kung Fu Panda entertained the masses to over $630 million worldwide all while earning an Oscar-nomination and dominating the Annie awards. However, the top player in the animation game nowadays is obviously Pixar, but to compare the two studios is to find an obvious disconnect. Pixar has found a dedication to filmmaking as an art form, DreamWorks has excelled at spectacle over substance and Monsters vs. Aliens certainly fills the bill on spectacle, but also shows the studio’s ability to create some great characters even if I’m not sure they fit in with the DreamWorks franchise structure.
I didn’t go in expecting much from Monsters vs. Aliens. DreamWorks was pushing the film based on its use of 3-D technology and it began to feel as if it was a feature length gimmick with little-to-no attention paid to story or even entertainment. The passion the studio seemed to have for 3-D appeared to exceed the effort to make the film, but that turned out not to be the case. While DreamWorks has celebrated their effort to develop 3-D animated films, and Monsters vs. Aliens is a spectacular example of the medium at work, there is no shortage in entertainment delivered
The premise is no secret as the title leaves little to the imagination. An alien race led by Gallaxhar (voiced by Rainn Wilson) lands on Earth and as a result the human race resorts to their secret stock of captured monsters to battle the invaders. Our heroes are made up of the 49-feet-11-inches tall Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon), Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), the macho half-ape, half-fish The Missing Link (Will Arnett), the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus. Each has a distinctive personality they bring to the film, all playing for additional laughs on top of the action that ensues. Additional voice casting such as Stephen Colbert as the President of the United States and Kiefer Sutherland as an eccentric general in charge of the monsters division takes a page out of R. Lee Ermey’s book of tough guy personas.
Monsters vs. Aliens plays heavily on the idea of not judging people at face value as its moral compass and does contain some material that may be frightening for smaller children. During my screening a father had to continuously reassure his daughter things were okay, but she never got scared to the point she was crying and neither did any other children for that matter.
As for the gimmicky 3-D presentation, studios have finally started making movies in 3-D from the ground up and like Coraline earlier this year the 3-D is fantastic and outside of an early “comin’ atcha” moment the 3-D aspect is just another part of the movie. As someone not entirely sold on the value of the medium I will say it was nice to not have to angle my head a specific way to take advantage of the full experience, but I am still not sure I see the overall value. Sure, it looks cool, but once the movie gets rolling the story and film’s ability to entertain is what becomes important and 3-D just doesn’t matter in either of these departments over the long haul.
Beyond 3-D comments and focusing on the movie alone, Monsters vs. Aliens is a lot of fun. It doesn’t necessarily live up to last year’s Kung Fu Panda but it greatly exceeds the last two Shrek films which truly emphasized a lack of storytelling capabilities as the studio relied heavily on established characters over making an effort to tell an engaging story. Should DreamWorks attempt to franchise this film I am not sure it would be able to sustain, but as a one-time outing it certainly managed to keep me engaged.