'Monsters vs Aliens' not bad, could have been better


Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:05 a.m.

I love monsters. Let's get that out of the way up front - I grew up watching monster movies; they are close to my heart and I am prejudiced towards anything monster-oriented. I don't lose all objectivity, mind you; I couldn't abide the remake of "Godzilla," and although the monster was cool, I didn't enjoy "Cloverfield" either. But I really wanted to.

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Susan (Reese Witherspoon) Toothy Insectosaurus, Dr. Cockroach, Missing Link and B.O.B. from Monsters vs Aliens.

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Facts

Nate Rates It:

"Monsters vs Aliens" Watch it
"The Monster Squad" Rent it
"Monsters, Inc." Buy it

Similarly, I feel a little let down by "Monsters vs Aliens," which I really wanted to be great, and instead it was only pretty good.

The day of her wedding, Susan is hit by an asteroid and grows into a colossal 50-foot woman. She is captured by some shadowy military types, who whisk her away to a high-tech prison designed specifically to hold monsters. Susie's jail mates are: Dr. Cockroach (modeled after "The Fly"), B.O.B. ("The Blob"), Insectosaurus (Mothra, or any bug-themed Godzilla adversary) and The Missing Link (a fish man a la "Creature from the Black Lagoon").

When evil alien Gallaxhar sets his sights on Earth, the monsters and Susie are released to save the world. First they have a knock-down, drag-out melee with a massive robot, and then ... well, I don't want to spoil it. The movie takes way too long to get going - the opening "day of the wedding" sequence goes on forever, and we don't get monsters versus anything for half an hour.

The voice cast is uniformly great; Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Stephen Colbert, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson and star Reese Witherspoon are terrific and give the film a big lift. But the script isn't very strong, the story is kind of lackluster and the Shrek Factor of being clever enough for grown-ups is very low.

Overall, "Monsters vs Aliens" isn't bad, but it's not nearly as good as it could have been. The visual effects are very well done, but there isn't any magic in the movie. And that is a certain something that all great family movies have.

Take "Monsters, Inc." for comparison. This is a kids movie that is just as much fun for adults. The computer animation by Pixar is amazing (as usual) and this time it is a world populated entirely by monsters with no two alike. Monstropolis is a creepy but not-too-scary city where monsters keep the energy supply humming by harvesting the screams of scared, little kids.

The problem is that modern-day kids aren't very scared of monsters, so the energy supply is starting to run low. John Goodman and Billy Crystal are a pair of friends who accidentally end up with a human baby girl in Monstropolis. There, monsters are terrified of human children, and the city quickly falls into a panic.

Like any warm-hearting Disney movie, "Monsters, Inc." has an important message for kids about not judging a book by its cover, yadda yadda yadda. More importantly, it's a fun and entertaining monster movie filled with cool-looking beasts and creatures. It's one of my favorite Pixar movies, but as I duly noted, I am fond of monster movies.

"The Monster Squad" is a criminally overlooked monster movie. It was in the first years of the PG-13 rating, when they were still figuring out how much violence and swearing to allow, so this movie may be a little much for younger kids. If you have a boy age 12 to 14 (or have ever been a boy of that age) then you have to watch this movie.

Made in 1987, "The Monster Squad" was an attempt to make a horror version of "The Goonies." A group of boys meets in a treehouse to discuss horror movies, quiz each other about famous monsters and the like. Their town is invaded by an all-star gang of movie ghouls - Dracula leads an old-school crew of the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein's monster. The cops are at loose ends, and the only ones with the knowledge and the nerve to stop the villains are the Monster Squad.

The movie has more than a fair amount of camp, but most of it is intentional in paying homage to the classic monster movies of the '40s and '50s. There is a decidedly modern edge to the final acts, which are rather gruesome and bloody (as many great horror movies are), however. It's classic '80s stuff, right down to the "Monster Squad Rap" over the closing credits. This one gets a "Rent It," but for certain people (people like me, for example) it's an easy "Buy It" recommendation.

Coming Attraction: October is a hot month for new DVDs. Look forward to dissections of "Year One," "Land of the Lost," "The Proposal," "Drag Me to Hell," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Orphan" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." And to gear up for Halloween look forward to the Horror Movie of the Week.

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