THE ANIMATION wizards at DreamWorks leave "Shrek" and "Madagascar" sequels behind, and what do they come up with?
A "Close Encounters"-"Independence Day"-"Clone Wars"-"Mars Attacks"-"Monsters, Inc."-"Mothra" mashup that is more fun than movie this derivative has a right to be. Steal from one movie, you're a plagiarist. Steal from 20, you're a genius. "Monsters vs. Aliens" isn't quite "genius," but it is a beautifully animated, wacky and laugh-out-loud 3-D riff on monster movies, alien conspiracy and invasion thrillers, past and present.
Reese Witherspoon is the voice of Susan, a pretty young thing prepping for her wedding to up-and-coming Modesto TV weatherman Derek (Paul Rudd). She's struck by a meteor. Next thing she knows, she's glowing. Next thing she knows after that, she's growing.
And that's when the black helicopters arrive. Susan is nabbed by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland, a drawling hoot) and locked in a vast underground government facility where all the "monsters" are kept.
"This place is an X-file wrapped in a cover-up and deep-fried in a paranoid conspiracy."
The other monsters — a gigantic caterpillar, a creature from the Black Lagoon named Missing Link, Dr. Cockroach and a blob named B.O.B. — are thrilled.
"What's your name? What do people scream when you're coming?" B.O.B. (Seth Rogen, perfect) wants to know.
Ginormica, Susan's new name, is doomed to a life hidden from humanity. Until, that is, an alien armed with skyscraper-sized robots shows up and menaces the Earth. The president (Stephen Colbert) is at a loss. Throw the monsters at them, promise them freedom if they defeat the four-eyed freak (Rainn Wilson) who threatens to clone himself into an army to conquer the world.
The action scenes are downright thrilling, the storytelling is brisk and witty, the homages to alien and monster movies funny and affectionate (best "Close Encounters" spoof ever). Directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon (and five credited writers) know their B-movies and have fun paying tribute to them in a spectacular brawl on the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance.
The cast is one-liner friendly. Will Arnett is the game but more scary than strong "Link." Hugh Laurie was born to do Dr. Cockroach's mad scientist's cackle. And Colbert? Funny in every line: "OK, boys, go to Terror Condition Brown. Because I need to change my pants."
There's a message here, too, about not living in someone else's shadow and never knowing what you're capable of until others demand it of you. But this is DreamWorks, where the ironic pop tunes pepper the soundtrack, the big names do the big voices and the zingers zing.
The 3-D is pretty much just a gimmick. But then, when you're calling your movie "Monsters vs. Aliens," it's all gimmick. Thank heavens it's also a lot of fun.
Letterman and Conrad Vernon
action, some crude humor and mild language