It looks like 3-D films have come back with a vengeance. Close to all major animated releases now are being optioned as 3-D pictures (and lets not forget IMAX, as well). Sure, these films due quite a damage on the box office, but they do even bigger damage on moviegoers’ wallets (my eight-year-old sister’s ticket alone cost $10). But then there is a rather large border between the films that take the imagination of their storylines and use the third dimension to further enhance that; and the films that are made specifically to exploit the agitating nature of 3-D.
Monsters vs Aliens can be VERY agitating. The film surely doesn’t have much interest in coaxing the standard family humor of Disney, nor does it commit to the transgressive, pop culture-referencing nature of the Shrek films. This is a movie made for the specific purpose of being shown in 3-D. The very opening contains a scientist playing paddle ball–a big, red ball flying ferociously at the audience. All the gimmicks you need are there, and while there is still the sass from other Dreamworks animated films, there surely isn’t the same commitment to superior storytelling.
The film is about Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon), who is getting ready to get married to her narcissistic weatherman fiance Derek (Paul Rudd). Everything is going to plan, before a giant meteor falls on her moments before the ceremony and turns her into a fifty-foot being with super human strength (re-named Ginormica). Without haste, the government takes her down and brings her to a confidential facility, where she finds out that her seemingly perfect world may never be the same again.
She’s kept inside a steel-walled prison, and her only companions are Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a former mad scientist, whose mad experiments transformed him into a pint-sized insect; there is The Missing Link (Will Arnet), a half-fish, half-whatever, who has some pretty surprising strength of his own–and an ego to boot; and then there is B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a giant blue blob with one eye, who has no brain (but he does have wit). These are monsters that the government have hid from the population in an attempt to protect them and the monsters from hysteria.
Ends up the chemical from the meteor that made Susan such a giant freak is the envy of a sadistic alien named Gallaxar (Rainn Wilson), who travels to Earth hoping to extract it from Susan. After the asinine US President (Stephen Colbert) tries to create peace talks with the aliens, things quickly go sour, and they decide–rather spontaneously–that the only force they have to fight the aliens are the monsters. Four monsters against an alien army. Monsters Vs. Aliens; it’s all in the title.
I don’t mean to make the case that family films are above a plot like this; absurdity is a mainstay in most child-aimed animated films. Animated films are at a strange point in their history. WALL-E and Persepolis were both groundbreaking, beautifully made films, stylistically and thematically. Meanwhile, most film audiences are caught in the traction of more mainstream films like Bolt and Kung Fu Panda. People are always going to for the more mainstream film–that’s why it’s called “mainstream”, but the execution of these so-called mainstream films are becoming poorer and poorer, to the point that audiences don’t even realize that they should demand better (and these same people call WALL-Eboring. *sigh*).
The good news? There are quite a few moments within the movie where the humor works, even if it is misguided. Like the Shrek films, there are many jokes that are meant to throw parents a bone. Most of these, though, are simply flat and unfunny, and since none of the kids understand them, it makes it much more frustrating for the adult viewers. No, the funniest parts of the movie are the low-brow, physically comedic moments. These characters are pure prototypes in monster form, and to see these hackneyed plot points taken from that perspective is sometimes intriguing.
I guess I’ve made no secret of the fact that I do not like the slew of 3-D films coming through the woodwork lately. Even Pixar’s Up, which seems like more spectacular material from that studio, is being promoted as a 3-D film. The technique worked occasionally in the film Coraline, but that was a film that held many themes about dreams and the surreal. These newer films are purely exploitative, and I’m not sure if the fad will fold over like it did decades earlier. For now, we’ll just be paying through the nose everytime a classic animated film is re-released in 3-D (a new Beauty and the Beast to be coming soon–no kidding).
Directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon