Its hard to love a cockroach. Yet, as demonstrated by WALL-E, in the hands of the gifted storytellers and animators, its not an insurmountable hurdle. With the fine folks who created MONSTERS VS ALIENS, the unlovable insect has once again been redeemed. Unlike WALL-E, a different sort of film altogether that gave us something that was almost cuddly, MvA gives us cockroach as mad scientist, and while the approach is very different, there is a wonderful rightness to it all. In fact, there is a wonderful rightness to pretty much everything to do with MvA.
This is a clever riff on the early days of 3-D, but mostly on films spawned by Cold War paranoia, of which the horror film was a vital sub-genre. Hence, the opening includes not just a strange blip on a radar screen hurtling towards the Earth at incredible speed, but also the guy watching the radar screen killing time by playing paddle ball, the ball, or course, aimed directly at the audience. The best part of it all is that even if you cant identify either reference (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the >original< or any lesser space invasion flick, and HOUSE OF WAX), it just doesnt matter. It also finds some love for DR. STRANGLOVE, and expands on the feminist underpinnings of THE ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN with a pithy modern sensibility that does nothing to detract from the main reason for the flicks existence. That would be to have a really, really good time.
The monsters in question are societys misfits, kept imprisoned at a government facility so secret that just saying its name is a Federal offense. The newest is Susan (Reese Witherspoons crackly, chipper voice). Its her wedding day, but the bad luck that ensues when her groom, Derek the ambitious television weatherman, sees her in her wedding dress takes the unusual form of her being struck by a glowing green meteorite. Soon Susan is also glowing, and just as she gets to the altar, she is also growing out of her dress, her relationship with Derek, and the church itself. Before you can say Area 51, Susans been abducted by the military. She wakes up to her new, jumbo-sized life, and her new companions. Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Lauries sneering tones), is a mad scientist, complete with requisite, maniacal laughter, who is the result of an experiment gone wrong, leaving him bug-eyed, literally. The Missing Link (Will Arnett) a regular Joe who was captured after accidentally terrorizing coeds on Coco Beach after being thawed out of the glacier he fell into 20,000 years ago. BOB (Seth Rogan with a voice as viscous and bouncy as his character) is a blue blob resulting from an unwise fusion of radiation and a dessert topping. Hes not smart, but hes gung-ho, and he can metabolize anything, even if he cant always remember how to breathe. Insectosaurus is a giant, vacantly staring grub, also the result of radiation gone awry, who towers over even Susan, has a mindless obedience to light sources, and can do really incredible, if gross, things with his nasal mucous. Dont ask.
None of these characters are terribly deep, but they are all deeply adorable, with all too human foibles, Insectosaurus notwithstanding, and the pathos of being just like regular folk in odd packaging. Again, Insectosaurus notwithstanding, though the Missing Links attachment to the big furry guy is touching. Theres also something touching, if dangerous, in the way that Dr. Cockroach is still driven to perform mad experiments, even if hes reduced to using kitchen appliances and old pizza boxes.
Susan barely has time to absorb all this when the monsters are called upon to repel the huge, one-eyed alien robot that has landed in Modesto, Susans hometown, and its not there by accident. Its looking for the glowing green stuff that has changed Susans life so radically, though she doesnt know it yet. They are the last best hope for humankind, or so opines the President (Stephen Colbert), whose pompadour is as big as his ego and whose love of coffee drinks brings the world a little too close to nuclear annihilation.
Its a last stand for which the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge is merely a prelude, and during which Susan will not only discover her power, she will embrace it. The whole empowerment thing being new to her, though, the first thing that comes to her mind is that there is now no jar in the world she cant open. And BOB, being BOB, wonders if its a pickle jar and gets excited at the prospect of a snack. He also gets excited by a gelatin mold (lime with 15 pieces of pineapple), but in a less gustatory sense, and by random birds flying by. Thats BOB.
The animation is dynamic, effectively using the 3-D effects, but not catering to them as cars teeter, cities crumble, and the monsters negotiate their ups and their downs of both a physical and emotional nature. Dr. Cockroach scurries convincingly. The space squid at the bottom of all the mayhem scuttles equally convincingly. And BOBs column of blob has a surprisingly graceful waterfall of undulation that keeps him going merrily along his oblivious way.
The humor is dry, the sentiment unapologetic, and the absurdity sublime in MONSTERS VS ALIENS, wherein, in classic fashion, the monsters prove that being human is more than looking like everyone else.