Not up to the Pixar challenge
Years ago the Avis rental car company had a slogan that purported to show their underdog determination to win over customers. “We’re #2, we try harder” was their mantra. That strategy could well be an underlying theme at Dreamworks SKG whose films seem to so often be playing catch up, at least artistically, to their rival Disney/Pixar. Unfortunately for Dreamworks, their competitor brings their “A” game every time out. (See “Wall-E,” “Ratatouille,” “Cars,” “The Incredibles,” stop me when I mention even an average film).
Take Dreamworks’ latest, “Monsters vs. Aliens” (also in 3-D in selected theaters). A throwback in theme to 50’s B-movies with a heroine named Susan (voiced by Reece Witherspoon) who grows to skyscraper size after being struck by a meteorite. The girl power undertones, like much of the movie itself, is not unwelcomed but feels uninspired. The story features likable, but not lovable characters in the form of Susan’s (or the delightful moniker she’s given “Ginormica”) allies, Sr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a blue blob “B.O.B.” (Seth Rogen), and the amphibious “Missing Link” (Will Arnett).
Together they are called on by the U.S. military, led by extra-hawkish general W.R. Monger (a deceptively gruff voiced Keifer Sutherland) to destroy a huge robot and a cadre of squid-like aliens led by sarcastically tongued but evil Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson). Stephen Colbert also has a nice voice turn as the wacky U.S. President.
While the film’s quick pace and constant comical jibes are easy to digest, the story structure is clumsy and may be over the heads of young ones whose parents will tire easily of the films lack of stimulating wit. Parents should also be warned that much of the military action is animated using authentic Bay area locations, and the excellent visual detail, especially anything mechanical, liquid, or furry, increases the reality of the film’s violent nature. The script’s stereotypical view of anyone in uniform being a trigger-happy dolt feels like it belongs back in the 50s.
The 3-D effect might slightly enhance the overall experience for kids but can’t disguise the lack of imagination and originality that are the hallmarks of Dreamworks’ main rival. In short, while Dreamworks is capable of some excellent, even stellar work such as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Flushed Away,” and “Chicken Run,” “Monsters vs. Aliens” is of an only-average caliber that likely would never have been released by Disney/Pixar.
Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language.