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Pixar vs. Dreamworks: A review of Monsters vs. Aliens

Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K

Dreamworks' latest animated effort still lags behind Pixar.

ImageThe 5-year-old inside of me was absolutely thrilled when he first heard about Monsters vs. Aliens. Monsters! Aliens! If they could only throw in some dinosaurs, his little head might explode. We probably have to wait for the sequel for that, I guess.

The movie is about Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) a bride who, yes, struck by a meteorite on her wedding day. But like any good bride with her eye on the prize, she literally dusts herself off and makes her way down the aisle. Unlike any good bride, her skin is glowing green, and she suddenly grows to be five times her size. (Some bridezilla, eh?) Naturally, the government takes her down and whisks her off to a top-secret monster containment unit. That's what she is now–a monster–and with her are a few friends: Dr. Cockroach, PhD (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who turned himself into a cockroach; B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless blue blob; the Missing Link (Will Arnett), who is just that; and Insectosaurus, a giant Japanese-inspired monster. Susan, whose codename I should add is Ginormica, doesn't have to stay cooped up for long though, because as soon as aliens attack, the monsters are the world's only hope.

What's cool about the movie is that it's about a girl hero who doesn't end up with a guy (she dumps her would-be husband, a self-involved weather man who just wants a trophy wife to go with his network anchor job). When she finally discovers the extent of her powers, she embraces them and starts to kick some real alien butt. The movie is also full of lots of funny throw-away jokes, as you can expect from any ironic animated film these days, but what I didn't like is that the jokes aren't really there for that 5-year-old. They are more there for the parents, and the, uh, twentysomething reviewer who wandered in. Steven Colbert is the voice of the President for goodness sake. It seems like they were trying to so hard to make it a movie for the whole family that they forgot who the real audience is. This is something at which Pixar never fails.  They know how to make a movie that’s funny and weird enough for kids, and sweet and good enough for parents.  There's definitely a way to make a movie for everyone without alienating (excuse the pun) either audience. And don't get me wrong, there's plenty for kids to like here, from the funny monsters and aliens, to the exciting action towards the end. But the first half of the movie is paced so slowly, and the jokes must mostly go over their heads. (The President, for example, plays the theme from Beverly Hills Cop on his keyboard to communicate with the aliens. Kids love that movie, don't they?)

Hard as it is to admit, the funniest character probably in the movie is voiced by Seth Rogen. Playing a brainless blob, is perhaps the role he was born to play and I am confident (Green Hornet not withstanding) this is the the most I am every going to like him in a movie. He gives the movie the heart that it needed, but he does it maybe recycling Ellen DeGeneres' Dory from Finding Nemo, which I guess brings up my last point. As fun as Monsters vs. Aliens is in the moment, why wouldn't you just watch Pixar's Monster's Inc. instead?  Do we really need both?

This isn’t even the first time we’ve been through this with Dreamworks and Pixar.  There was Antz with A Bug’s Life; Shark Tale after Finding Nemo; and now Monsters vs. Aliens, which actually takes notes from a couple of films.  First you have the obvious: when watching these monsters, you can’t help but think back to Sully and Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc..  And upon further reflection, isn’t the story about coming together as a team to face a powerful enemy a little reminiscent of The Incredibles.  Maybe I’m stretching a little there to make my point, but there’s no denying that it has a Toy Story feel to it: previously deemed useless ragtags prove themselves heroes.

Maybe I’m projecting too much onto Monsters vs. Aliens here.  There’s no reason why it has to rise to the standard of any other movie, let alone an entire studio’s worth of them.  But there’s something to be said of the competition that Dreamworks puts forward.  Maybe it’s not intentional, but even in their most successful movie, Shrek, isn’t it just a bunch of borrowed ideas arranged together in a funny way?  It just makes me all the more hopeful for Pixar’s next offering, Up!, which is thankfully only 2 months away.

Monsters vs. Aliens: 7/10