When a meteorite from outer space hits a young girl and turns her into a giant monster, she is taken to a secret government compound where she meets a ragtag group of monsters also rounded up over the years.

A credible example of the opportunities of 3D storytelling

It’s been hard not to raise a sceptical eyebrow at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s relentless spruiking of the wonders of digital 3D. Touted by the Dreamworks animation honcho as a totally new experience, the new 3D is a fine-tuned version of the Fifties and Sixties gimmick rather than a completely new experience, and those cheesy red and green plastic glasses are, alas, still necessary. As for the claim that this time you don’t get a headache, that wasn’t this viewer’s experience watching Disney’s mediocre animation Meet the Robinsons only 18 months ago.

Still, last year’s IMAX concert film U23D gave cause to make even this sceptic think this might be something more than just a load of old corporate hype; the film’s eye-popping visuals gave off a sense of new cinematic possibility.

Now with Monsters vs Aliens, Disney’s rival DreamWorks has released an animated family movie that should go a long way to establishing the format’s credibility with mainstream audiences. Sure, it starts with that hokey old device whereby an object suddenly flies towards the audience – a meteorite, then an elasticated ping-pong ball. But having flushed the showing-off out of their system the filmmakers use the surprisingly impressive 3D images to support the film, not dictate to it. The technique enhances the spectacle, making the story leap off the screen that extra bit more brightly.

That the movie is heaps of fun, though, is thanks largely to an engaging storyline and a menagerie of colourfully eccentric characters, including a mad scientist cockroach (voiced by Hugh Laurie) and a blue blob (Seth Rogen) who falls in love with a jelly.

Paying exuberant homage to the B-grade science fiction movies of the Fifties not to mention E.T., the movie blends madcap action – I particularly enjoyed the trashing of San Francisco by alien robot – with wacky humor. And somehow the writers manage to shoehorn in a feminist message: simpering wedding-fixated girl, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, turns into 50-foot woman after being hit by meteorite and finds enough of a mojo to fight against the bad guys and ditch her creepy fiancé (yeah, that old story again).

The rest of the plot is a little complicated but let’s just say that a bunch of amiable 'monsters" that have been long imprisoned by the US government are set loose by their jailers to save the earth from an evil alien squid who’s threatening earth (cue maniacal cackle).

The film may lack the poetry of Pixar’s Wall-E, but the story is engaging, the visuals inventive and many of the jokes rib-ticklers. Only the ending disappoints, involving a gag in which the war room’s huge nuclear button is placed next to an identical button used for ordering coffee. Why? Even in a wacky cartoon this is daft, especially as it leads to a cynical, Dr Strangelove-inspired finale that jibes oddly with the movie’s female empowerment idealism. The makers in the end don’t seem to know what message they’re trying to send – a pity, because elsewhere they rarely put an alien tentacle wrong.


1 hour 34 min
Thu, 10/01/2009 - 11