July issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 15 years ago

DreamWorks is known for having produced some of the most memorable and imaginative animated films of the last decade. Its latest effort, Monsters vs Aliens, does not fall short of the standard the company has maintained.

The film tells the story of Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon), a shy, unassuming woman from Modesto, California, soon to marry ambitious weatherman Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd). But when a meteor hits her on the day of her wedding, she grows into a giantess, is captured by the government and shuttled off to a secret prison facility, created for monsters the likes of which the American public simply cannot handle. She meets her jailer, General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), and befriends the other ‘monsters’ in the prison: B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a mindless, gelatinous blob who later develops a crush on a green jelly; Dr Cockroach PhD (Hugh Laurie), a typical mad scientist whose experiments leave him with the head and abilities of a cockroach; the Missing Link (Will Arnett), a prehistoric part of the chain of human evolution, half ape, half fish; and Insectosaurus, a massive grub larger than Susan herself.

It seems they are fated to stay stuck there together, but a release is quickly authorised by the bumbling president of the United States (Stephen Colbert), to combat the forces of the alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson). Gallaxhar is after the quantonium that caused Susan’s growth. The antics that ensue pitch the monsters against the aliens, in a journey of loyalty, becoming comfortable with oneself and teamwork.

The film possesses an interesting plotline that rarely sinks into the predictability so common in animated pictures. The jokes, juxtaposed with deep truths presented in a non-moralising way, are pertinent and often truly funny. Also, the actors’ abilities shine through even from their brightly coloured onscreen personas, giving the characters they play the depth one expects those in a more serious film to have. But that does not detract from the appeal of the characters, to whom all ages can relate to: be it the uncertainty and insecurity that plague Susan, the monsters’ inability to understand what behaviour is ‘acceptable’ and Gallaxhar’s drive to ‘have it all.’ And the entire experience is visually stunning — the new Intel technology used in the production of this film, making it much more visually exciting than previous productions — inexorably pulling the viewer into the world of the film.

Nothing, however, is perfect. The comedy seems strained at times, the lines dragging and the plot failing to entertain with its too-heavy-for-a-kiddie-movie undertones. Bumbling presidents, highly efficient secret government conspiracies and evil aliens bent on conquest are a little hackneyed, even for a target audience which is not the most culturally aware. These details mar the overall creativity of the film. It seems that the storyline has suffered with shift of the focus to gleamingly new technological images.

What one must remember about this movie, above all, is that it is not a serious attempt at presenting a slice of life. It is a joyride for the eyes, easy on the mind and often tickles the funny bone. Monsters vs Aliens is an immensely enjoyably movie — if not the smartest. Its saving grace, at the end of the day, was its overturning of stereotypes: a proto-feminist thread is evident, as we only see men full of hot air or devoid of any guts and, thankfully, the female protagonist does not by the end of the film, discover that she has fallen in love with one of the monsters. Original and gleeful, it should not be missed.

Akbar Shahid Ahmed is a Washington-based reporter for the Huffington Post, writing on U.S. foreign policy. He has contributed to Newsline since 2008.