The wow factor of the resurgent 3D-filmmaking movement has by now worn off, and any movie that wants to impress audiences has to do more than just depict things flying out of the screen. There are a few obvious bits of 3D pandering in the new DreamWorks animated film Monsters vs. Aliens, but for the most part it shows the folks at the 3D-obsessed studio settling in to the new technology, using it to enhance rather than distract from their story.
Not that Monsters vs. Aliens has the world’s most compelling or complex story: It’s pretty much all there in the title. A nefarious alien invader decides to take over the Earth, and it’s up to a band of monsters to stop him. They’re modeled mostly on classic 1950s B-movie monsters, and include 50-foot (give or take) woman Susan (voiced by Witherspoon); Black Lagoon-style creature Link (Arnett); gelatinous blob Bob (Rogen); mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), who resembles the original Fly (not the icky Jeff Goldblum version); and towering bug monster Insectasaurus, who once ate Tokyo.
The loose plot is mainly an excuse for cool monster/alien set pieces, the best of which is a showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge. Susan, who becomes gigantic at the beginning of the movie thanks to the MacGuffin that the evil alien is chasing, gets a whole character arc about dumping her self-centered fiancé and learning to believe in herself, but it’s not exactly fascinating. It’s not heavy-handed, either, though, which is refreshing in a candy-colored cartoon aimed at kids.
Unlike a lot of DreamWorks productions, Monsters isn’t loud or obnoxious or stuffed with meaningless pop-culture references (the ones that do show up tend to have some relevance to monsters and/or aliens), and it generally avoids talking down to its audience. There aren’t many huge laughs, but Rogen is reliably amusing as the (literally) brainless Bob, and Stephen Colbert successfully imports his clueless-blowhard persona from TV to play the president. The 3D visuals carry the whole thing along, making for a pleasant experience that’s never annoying but also rarely more than mildly thrilling.