Sunday, April 26, 2009

Movie Review: Monsters Vs. Aliens

Despite their best attempts, Dreamworks animation has once again failed to ruin a good movie. Yes, the company which produced Kung Fu Panda has made another flawed movie I enjoyed despite its many problems.

There are, by my count, three factors which make the movie work. First, there is the 3D, which is stunningly effective. This is an evolving format, but we've finally grown lungs and crawled out of the ocean: the movie has a believable depth that delivers a worthwhile experience.

Second, there are the characters. Much to my shock, I found myself liking every single monster in the film - including Insectosaurus, who I expected to hate. A lot of thought went into each character, both in terms of paying homage to the old movies that inspired them and in making them interesting, unique, likable, and fun.

But none of them topped Susan, who really carries the film. Her reactions, while not necessarily realistic, always feel genuine. The movie works because her character works: it's really as simple as that.

Finally, the action is, for the most part, exciting. While never approaching the intensity of Pixar, the fight and chase scenes are more than adequate. Dreamworks is learning in these areas, and I commend them for it.

But, as I said from the start, there were many, many problems. Or, from another perspective, there was one problem which never went away. Oh yes, there is a beast that Dreamworks has yet to tame, and its name is Slapstick.

Whenever Stephen Colbert (iD&Di: 1.0) appears, the movie falters. This shocked me, because I generally enjoy his antics. What's more, I considered his casting particularly inspired when I first heard. But I hadn't realized then the degree to which he was purely comic relief. He is not alone in this regard, either. Other characters who are generally well handled are occasionally used to deliver jokes that shatter the tone and fall flat. Likewise, while they are nowhere near as widespread as some other movies, there is the occasional pop culture reference which makes any genre fan roll their eyes.

In the future, Dreamworks should ask their directors whether they are making a movie or a parody. Those who respond with the latter should be fired at the least. More severe punishment, including incarceration, would not be uncalled for. And whoever believed Monsters Vs. Aliens needed a "Dance Dance Revolution" should be forced to re-watch Fox's 2003 film, Robots. It may constitute a form of torture, but it is the only way to ensure they never try something similar again.

Scaled against The Incredibles, I'll generously give Monsters Vs. Aliens three stars. Overall, this is no better nor worse than Kung Fu Panda. It's good fun, but it's no Pixar.

I imagine it would lose a great deal of its charm if seen without the benefit of 3D glasses, so I suggest those of you who've yet to see it do so soon. It is, for all its flaws, a nice little picture. And, when it's not trying too hard, it's actually quite funny.

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