“Monsters vs. Aliens” — A Battle for the Right Ages — 2 & ½ popcorns

 popcornby Michael S. Goldberger, film critic  

As celebrated in “Monsters vs. Aliens,” one great thing about cartoons is that instead of dying a gruesome death when hit by a meteor you turn into a fifty-foot superhero. It’s in the DNA of animated characters. Susan, who becomes the heroine Ginormica, surely owes her very being to the eons of dropped anvils the Road Runner and his ilk survived.  

Tyler and Brittney, who doubtless couldn’t care less about the Darwinian implications of this PG-rated space invasion, should find it amusing, if they’re between six and nine and not terribly jaded. Parents, on the other hand, might find solace in analyzing what the filmmakers who profit by tomorrow’s citizens feel is their educational obligation.  

Neatly exampled moral lessons thread nicely through the screenplay, voiced with lively inflection by an all-star cast. Tutorials include, but are not limited to, Women’s Lib, tolerance of other life forms (even if they’re monsters) and how to deal with invading tyrants who would enslave us. Pity though, nothing about indiscreet ex-vice presidents.  

Though Junior doesn’t have all that much cinema background yet, he’ll be right in echoing Dad’s take on the quality of animation: It just keeps getting better and better. Combining the new technology with some very traditional modes of cartooning makes for a big screen full of vibrant and whimsical fantasy. The plot is at once old and new.  

Meaning the venerable standby hasn’t been used in an animated feature…until now. Call it the kiddy version of “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), a primer on quid pro quo. Only instead of army jailbirds being offered freedom in exchange for undertaking a dangerous mission behind Nazi lines, our film’s lovable monsters are asked to save the world. 

Of course they’re hardly considered as such when first we meet the ragtag crew of humorous ogres, captured over the years and sequestered in a secret military installation. Au contraire, it’s thought their presence will frighten humankind. Following her capture, Susan/Ginormica, articulated by Reese Witherspoon, is tossed among them. 

There she and her newfound compatriots might have stayed if it weren’t for the urgings of their jailer, General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland). For when the President is at an impasse about how to fight an alien invasion led by Gallaxhar, he suggests the monsters. P.S-‘twas an errant meteor from the evil one’s planet that caused Susan’s transformation. 

President Hathaway (Steven Colbert), a rather silly doofus who almost pushes the bad red button when trying to fix himself a cup of coffee, nonetheless makes the right decision here. Susan and her motley monsters are released…their mission clear. They’re obviously good enough to protect those who previously classified them undesirable. 

War ensues. Ostensibly a light show of one-upmanship, its manifestations will frighten only the smallest of viewers. Otherwise, it’s an action-stuffed bragging contest, each side trying to claim superiority. Rainn Wilson’s Gallaxhar, sounding much like classic film villain Henry Daniell, is just the right combination of menacing and ludicrous. 

Reminiscent of other odd alliances, the amalgam of monsters quickly brings to mind the gaggle of unappreciated souls who joined up with Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). In this case, incarcerated because of who they are, each needs to prove his or her worth. That includes Susan, a natural born leader despite a recent disappointment in love.  

A super Snow White to her acquired retinue, Susan learned the truth about her selfish fiancée, news anchor Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd), just before everything went kablooey. They were to be wed. But there is an advantage to every disadvantage. While Helen Reddy’s “I am woman, hear me roar” isn’t interjected, you might imagine it is.  

The boys, for all their odd looks, are really a sweet bunch once you get to know them. Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Cockroach is the polite, eggheaded genius; B.O.B (Seth Rogen) is a goodhearted, colloidal blob of insecurity with no apparent brain; and anxious-to-please Link (Will Arnett), a virtual combo of species, is, well, the missing link.  

Rounding out the crusading quintet, the fourth Musketeer is the quiet but huge Insectisauras, a PG send up of  “Mothra” (1961). But, while sheer might certainly counts, their true strength derives from being right. Even little Johnny can sense something’s not  kosher when the bad guy’s goose-stepping minions salute and shout “Hail Gallaxhar.”  

Enlightenment indeed. Problem is, after an edifying survey of what’s being served up to moviegoing youth these days, accompanying adults are apt to lose interest. Urbane only in parts, it doesn’t really play on two levels. Hence the dilemma: sacrifice and take the kids to see “Monsters vs. Aliens” vs. being like Gallaxhar and only caring about yourself.

 “Monsters vs. Aliens,” rated PG, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon and stars the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen and Hugh Laurie. Running time: 94 minutes

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