Monsters vs. Aliens -- Film Review

"Monsters vs. Aliens," the first of DreamWorks Animation's promised rollout of nothing but 3-D movies, is a jokey, action-packed movie that demonstrates what 3-D can do for animation -- and perhaps its limitations. Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon have created a clever entertainment that with its onscreen battles and old movie references spans several generations of moviegoing.

What kid won't want to see monsters take on aliens? What parent or grandparent won't chuckle over the affectionate ribbing of '50s-era science fiction films? Looks like a solid boxoffice winner for DreamWorks Animation and its distributor, Paramount Pictures, but let's hope that animators take a hard look at the pluses and minuses of 3-D.

Certainly the whimsical tale itself is A-plus. California gal Susan Murphy, who is drawn to look a bit like her voice actress Reese Witherspoon, is poised to wed Derek (Paul Rudd), a newscaster who cannot be more impressed with himself. Then a meteor strikes and makes Susan 50 feet tall.

Immediately, the U.S. armed forces, led by Gen. W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), whisks her away to a secret repository for all monsters whose very existence is staunchly denied by our government. Her companions in lockup are the insect-headed Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), the gelatinous B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), the half-fish/half-ape Missing Link (Will Arnett) and a huge bug known as Insectosaurus (no actor because he -- it -- doesn't speak).

Even nonaficionados of sci-fi will recognize these cartoon progeny of the likes of the Fly, the Blob and good old Godzilla. Bringing the references a little more up to date, Letterman and Vernon and a team of writers include gags that kid "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" as well.

The president (Stephen Colbert -- what, you were expecting Rush Limbaugh?) is forced to order the release of these monsters when an alien robot invades the planet. The Monster Squad can win their freedom by battling first this mechanical beast and then its otherworldly creator, the multi-eyed, octopuslike Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson).

As with any good cartoon, the animators mix visual stunts with rimshot-worthy one-liners and verbal gags. In an epic battle with the robot in a deserted San Francisco, Susan slips a couple of sports cars on her feet to use as roller skates to race down its very steep streets. When the president demands a meeting with the country's top scientists, a phone call instantly is placed to India.

There is a nice mix of action with tender moments -- especially among the misfit monsters, so misunderstood by society, not to mention Susan's 50-foot problem when she reunites with her family. But there is little doubt that animating in 3-D forces the cartoonists to look for action at every turn, from the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge to the monsters engaging Gallaxhar and a clone army aboard his computerized spaceship.

"Monsters," therefore, is built for action -- but would 'WALL-E" benefit from 3-D? Would "Sleeping Beauty"? What might happen is animators could gravitate toward action/adventure/stunt-filled cartoons at the expense of, say, a "Dumbo."

Then again, animators might adapt. The self-consciousness of "Monsters," where many moments are designed so objects fly into the audience, could give way to more sophisticated use of 3-D.

Anyway, "Monsters" gets it all off to a fine start.

Opens: Friday, March 27 (Paramount Pictures)