26 March 2009

At the movies: Monsters vs Aliens.

Continuing to build on the strength of their underrated Kung-Fu Panda, Dreamworks Animation sets it aim high with this delightful throwback to the SciFi films of the 50s and 60s. Taking icons of those films, then tweaking them just a little, we get some remarkable characters: Seth Rogen’s take on The Blob (here, just called Bob) is breezily funny, and Will Arnett (Arrested Development, 30 Rock) gets at the existential heart of The Missing Link, a monster who just wants a tropical island full of Spring Breakers to terrify. Hugh Laurie’s Vincent Price/The Fly/mad scientist tribute, Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., is a personal favorite, and Reese Witherspoon, as the 49’11” Ginormica (and the piece’s primary heroine), does well with the film’s message of empowerment and open-heartedness.

But all of them, I tell you, pale in comparison to Insectosaurus. A grub accidentally afflicted by a nuclear explosion, Insectosaurus is 350 feet tall and quite possibly the most adorable movie monster ever. Sort of a friendly collision between Godzilla, Mothra, and Gossamer from the Looney Tunes, Insectosaurus made me laugh just by being in the frame.

So our team of monsters finds itself the only hope for the nation that shunned and imprisoned them when an impending alien invasion threatens the world as we know it. And what distinguishes Monsters vs Aliens most from its predecessors of Cold War SciFi is its willingness to embrace the other rather than rattling paranoid cages. Its 3-D effects (which, ideally, is the way to experience it) are subtle and immersive, but they up the excitement level considerably, and the diverse audience of families and critics I saw it with had a great time, excepting the itty bitty children who just couldn’t wrap their little heads around the concept of a friendly monster.

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