After having seen Monsters vs. Aliens in full IMAX 3-D, probably the worst thing I could say about it is that it’s ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, the animation is top-notch. Everything looks very impressive: from the cavernous spacecraft down to the fabric and textures of the main character’s outfit, there is an amazing attention to detail — and maybe that’s part of the problem. When intergalactic aliens send giant robots to attack the planet Earth, the US government sends in their roster of monsters to defend us. The concept seems fresh and there is potential for lots of fun, but maybe the movie-makers spent too much energy on the visuals because the characters and story seem pretty cliche (especially in this genre of post-Pixar animated movies). The “home team” consists of main character Susan Murphy, a.k.a Ginormica, (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) the bride to a local newsman who became larger-than-life after being struck by some meteor gunk; BOB, a living, talking blue blob (voiced hilariously by Seth Rogen); The Missing Link, an amphibious gill-man (voiced by Will Arnett); Dr. Cockroach, a mad scientist who became a human insect (voiced by Hugh Laurie); and Insectosaurus, a furry, butterfly-caterpillar larva of unusual size. Unfortunately, where it comes to making monsters lovable or interesting, they’ve got nothing on the characters of Pixar’s Monsters Inc. The whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” theme has also been done by everything from Beauty and the Beast to Dreamworks’s own Kung-fu Panda.
The voice cast is a veritable who’s who of popular culture. Alongside the aforementioned is Kiefer Sutherland (from 24) as army General W.R. Monger (see what they did there?); Rainn Wilson (from The Office) as invading alien tyrant Gallaxhar; Stephen Colbert (from The Colbert Report) as cowardly and bumbling US President Hathaway; and Paul Rudd (from I Love You, Man) as self-centred fiance/groom Derek. Amazingly, even while I was trying to pick out Kiefer Sutherland’s voice, I didn’t recognize any of them (except for Colbert) as I watched. With such a gold-star comedic cast (which also includes Amy Poehler, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Helms, John Krasinski, and Renee Zellweger, by the way), I am even more disappointed at how lacklustre the writing on this film really is.
As I mentioned, the animation is very good, and extremely vivid. Unfortunately for every awesome alien robot, there are about a dozen odd-looking human characters that just don’t appear right. Computer animation has always struggled with the depiction of human characters. It’s got to be a challenge to try to capture the human figure in realistic three dimensions, but make it cartoonish at the same time. Sadly this movie does not achieve this ideal goal. In fact, I found this failure most obvious in the eerie creepiness of Ginormica herself (love the name, though). Her head is disproportionately large and ovoid. There was one scene where she’s got her head tucked into her knees crying in the corner of a holding cell. Without seeing her face, it appeared proportionally as if half her body was her hair. When you do see her face, her eyes are so large, and the irises so realistic and glassy, that it is creepier the more you look at them. I’m sure that the animators had the best of intentions, but unfortunately the humans in this movie look stranger than the monsters.
While I have always been a big fan of animated movies, and despite the fact that Monsters vs. Aliens is leading the latest wave of 3-D animated movies coming to the multiplex, I wouldn’t necessarily urge anyone to put their hard earned cash into seeing this one on the big big screen. You might not get the cool glasses or the impressive cinema sound, but this one is at best a renter. (3 out of 5)