In its first third alone, Monsters vs. Aliens somehow name-checks all of the following:
- Attack of the 50-Foot Woman
- King Kong
- Gulliver’s Travels
- Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
- Men in Black
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Mars Attacks!
- Independence Day
- War of the Worlds
- The Creature from the Black Lagoon
- The Blob
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- The Iron Giant
- the White Mountains book series
- The Neverending Story, and
- a couple of Hayao Miyazaki movies
An animated movie inked more by its influences than by its own original story, Monsters vs. Aliens gets exhaustive after a while with its rapid-fire references. That said, if this works as a shiny primer to one day introduce children to all that classic science-fiction, satire, fantasy and anime, well, more power to it.
What Monsters vs. Aliens ultimately settles for is to be a thrill-ride version of The Incredibles with a plainspoken titular twist. Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is ready to marry her TV-weatherman sweetheart (voiced by Paul Rudd) when a meteor lands on her, leaving her unharmed but endowed with powers of gigantism.
Taken in by the U.S. government and quarantined from her friends and family, Susan is thrown in with a gaggle of other “monsters.”
There’s B.O.B. (voiced by Seth Rogen), a brainless blobby byproduct of a tomato and ranch dressing who loves to absorb bone-in ham and creates generous gelatinous slapstick. There’s Dr. Cockroach (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a brainy scientist with a John Waters mustache. The Missing Link (voiced by Will Arnett) is a 20,000-year-old frozen fish-man with as much bravado as brawn. And Insectosaurus — mute save for a Godzilla-style screech — is a grub the size of a skyscraper.
When the nefarious alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) turns his destructive sights on Earth, this quintet of heroes must do battle against his behemoth-robot sentries.
Pretty much all of Monsters vs. Aliens is passably OK, but its standout centerpiece finds San Francisco emptied out like a sandbox in which Susan can do battle with Gallaxhar’s alien craft. Co-directors Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman have a lot of fun with the economy of scale as Susan glides across the city using sedans for skates.
It pays off with spectacularly exciting action involving the Golden Gate Bridge being swatted like Lincoln Logs that plays better than its live-action counterpart in X-Men: The Last Stand. This sequence exceeds anything during the busy finish toward which Monsters vs. Aliens rushes headlong.
Rendered in a computer so clearly that wheat-bun grains realistically pop off the screen, Monsters vs. Aliens was presented in 3D on premium movie screens. Some gratuitous moments clearly inserted for that effect fizzle on the 2D small screen. But there is one in-your-face purpose-pitch pun that is perfect — the opening credits tag that reads “Stephen Colbert as The President.”