Movies: Monsters vs. Aliens 3D

It’s not often we go to a movie the day it opens. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time we did. Of course, we don’t go to many movies to begin with, and the local theater doesn’t always carry them the week they are released. And when we did live in an area where it was always easy to find a theater showing a movie the day it opened, the crowds that would show up discouraged us from trying. We tried one time, and it was sold out before we made it to the ticket office.

But Muscatine is a relatively small community. As it was, the theater was more crowded than it has been for any previous movies we’ve seen there (and it was still less than half full) – except for the free movie-and-popcorn sponsored by the company I work for every December, for kids 12 and under (and their parents, so I get to go too). Even so, I wouldn’t have thought about going to a movie if the present I had ordered for my son’s birthday hadn’t been back-ordered. One week before his birthday, I found out the gift wouldn’t arrive until April, so I started trying to think of alternatives.

Food is the easiest gift, especially for a teenager. Almost anything chocolate works (he didn’t like the chocolate cheese we tried one time in Frankenmuth, MI). And cheese (just like his dad). So we had lasagna and Texas toast for dinner, brownies and super fudge brownie ice cream for dessert, and breakfast this morning was sausage strata, accompanied by chocolate milk. Plus I got him some boxes of his favorite Little Debbies snacks (Nutty Bars, Swiss Rolls, and Fudge Rounds).

But when I discovered that Monsters vs. Aliens was being released on his birthday, and that our local theater not only was showing it but had the 3D version, I decided we’d found a perfect way to both celebrate his birthday and have a family night out. It’s the great sort of movie that isn’t too scary for our 9-year-old, but still plenty fun for our now-17-year-old (he was thrilled at the idea and greatly enjoyed the movie).

I’m sure my husband and I enjoyed it just as much. I had never seen any of the 50’s B-movies it borrows from, but I did at least get some of the other movie references (the Vulcan hand sign, “E.T. Go Home,” and the word spaceballs). But those are just little extras – I think the movie is a lot of fun to watch even if you have no idea what inspired the screenwriters and animators.

Most reviews agree that the 3D effects are awesome. My husband is looking forward to seeing it again in IMAX format, but I thought it was plenty effective seeing everything in 3D on an ordinary screen. (The 3D glasses fit very comfortably and I forgot all about them after the first minute.) There are only a few times when something seems about to fly into your face, but the sense of the action occurring in real space instead of a flat surface was impressive.

A lot of people seem to think that the characters lack depth and the storyline is way too familiar and predictable. If you’ve read my other movie reviews, you know I appreciate character development. But my criticism in that regard has always been with live-action films – animated movies aren’t supposed to be realistic. Realistic-looking objects and scenery are great as props and background, but animated humans never look convincingly real no matter how much they try, and in my opinion the closer they get the less appealing they are.

I’ve also never liked comics that are drawn in a fully realistic style. If you want real humans, use real humans. Today’s CGI technology is such that live-action movies can do all the monsters and special effects that used to require animation. So drawing human figures in a stylized manner, and making them behave in stylized ways, is just fine. That’s what animated movies do – they exaggerate. Most real people aren’t as completely self-absorbed as Derek, but that’s his role in the movie – and he fulfills it perfectly.

I didn’t even know how the movie would turn out at the end – maybe that’s because I haven’t seen enough other movies of that type, or maybe it’s because I’m happy to just sit back and enjoy the story without guessing what will happen next. The good guys win the war, of course, but you never know just what the collateral damage will be (including to relationships those good guys have with other people). And it’s not the story that makes this movie – it’s the humor.

That’s what cartoons have always been about, in my experience – not telling a deep story but putting a smile on my face. Monsters vs. Aliensis a very advanced cartoon, technologically, but its techniques of character- and situation-based humor are as old as storytelling. B.O.B is great as the brainless blob of Bicarbonate Ostylezene Benzoate, and Dr. Cockroach and Gallaxhar give two very different versions of the stereotypical mad scientist.

There are of course some people who worry about ways in which this movie reflects negative trends in our society. One person at complained that

As a mindless ‘Overcoming the Monster’ plot, it was superb. But…and this is a BIG but…if I see one more movie that portrays the woman as the selfless leading alpha-hero overcoming men and saving the day, and the men as a) selfish egotists victimizing the poor hapless female, or b) as a bunch of bumbling idiots following a woman’s lead, I think I am seriously going to boycott this society!

The woman is the hero precisely because she’s such an unlikely candidate for that role. Literature has always been full of unlikely heroes, from David the shepherd boy to the Brave Little Tailor, and real life has its share of them too. How many people would have expected the ragtag army of American colonists to defeat the armies of the British Empire? 

I can imagine some people complaining about the negative way that the movie portrays the President, a bumbling coward who is full of bluster until danger gets too close, and who has trouble remembering which button makes a latte and which one sets off nuclear weapons. But that’s all part of the whole cartoon scenario – the most unlikely heroes are needed because the people who should be able to deal with the crisis can’t. (And frankly, no ordinary human leader, no matter how strong or smart or courageous, or what conventional weapons he used, would have stood a chance against that alien robot.)

The movie does cost a couple extra dollars to watch in 3D. But if you can spare the money and the time, go watch it with your family, and have fun!


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