Irradiated by a meteorite, the giant Susan (Witherspoon) is called on to join four monstrous freaks of nature and science in defending Earth from evil alien overlord Gallaxhar.
To really appreciate Monsters Vs Aliens, you have to have grown up with — and love unreservedly — the mostly black-and-white, paranoid, slightly creaky monster movies of the 1950s, whether on 3-D drive-in screens or the late-night telecasts which imprint images from Invaders From Mars and It Came From Outer Space on the brain. Or you have to be a kid who’s never heard of The Creature or The Blob but can instantly recognise how much cooler these ’50s fiends are than the CGI imitations that proliferate on the Sci Fi channel.
Monsters Vs Aliens does for ’50s monsters what Van Helsing and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen failed to do for the classic horror/pulp pantheon and brings together a clutch of near-forgotten fiends in search of redemption. It even dares hang its entire emotional content on one of the shoddiest B pictures of all time, Attack Of The 50 Ft. Woman — and does more for her than any remake or parody ever could. In answer to recent critiques that CG ’toons tend to privilege immature, whiny men (or immature, whiny pandas) and sideline womenfolk, Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is a model of female empowerment. The neglected fiancée of a self-absorbed weatherman, she bursts through the church roof to thwart her own wedding — but blossoms (under the code-name ‘Ginormica’) when called to defend the planet alongside other freaks analogous to classic movie monsters. The gang runs to Hugh Laurie’s bug-headed mad scientist, Dr. Cockroach (The Fly), Will Arnett’s muscular fishman The Missing Link (The Creature From The Black Lagoon), Seth Rogen’s blue jelly B.O.B. (The Blob), and Insectosaurus (the Japanese Mothra).
Shrek aside, DreamWorks CG ’toons have been eclipsed by Pixar’s efforts, but this can go antennae-to-tentacle with the best of any studio — and leaves recent tagalongs like Bolt or Igor in the dust. Besides a big heart, it has outstanding 3-D action sequences — including a showstopping tussle between the monsters and a giant robot egg on the Golden Gate Bridge — a sprinkling of snarky MAD magazine-style satirical gags (come in, Kiefer Sutherland as General W. R. Monger), clever walk-ons (Renée Zellweger upturns a set of clichés as the high-school girl whose jock date shrinks from her advances and breaks his ankle when a UFO arrives) and appealing semi-retro sci-fi design.