With a title like Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest animated effort from DreamWorks sounds as if it could match all those Pixar gems in terms of emerging as a toon tale equally likely to entertain the adults as the small fry. After all, what film-lovin' grownup, specifically one weaned on a steady diet of '50s fantasy flicks playing all night on late-night TV, could resist a movie guaranteed to be crammed with more inside jokes than anybody could reasonably hope to absorb during the initial viewing?
Unfortunately, Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't come close to fulfilling what appeared to be its lot in (cinematic) life. Sure, there are plenty of bright colors and wacky characters and slapstick antics to amuse the children, but many adults will, to a degree, be left wanting.
The title itself points out the film's failing. The monsters, here reconfigured as the good guys, are all based on creatures found in classic sci-fi romps of the 1950s. Sweet Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride-to-be who gets super-sized to enormous proportions (hence her new name of Ginormica), is a nod to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman; the gelatinous mound B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) is based on The Blob; Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) obviously parodies The Fly; the amphibious Missing Link (Will Arnett) is an offshoot of Creature from the Black Lagoon; and the silent Insectosaurus seems patterned on the behemoths once found stomping around Japan (Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). These creations are amusing enough, but what of the alien half of the equation? Where's the savory mix that would pay homage to the E.T.s found in The Thing (from Another World), The Day the Earth Stood Still, This Island Earth -- heck, even The Monolith Monsters? Instead, we get one tiresome extraterrestrial megalomaniac (Rainn Wilson), a clear indication that inspiration ran out long before this promising premise was saturated.
The film's visual scheme is inventive, and parents feverishly seeking kid-friendly life lessons should appreciate the usual message about how everybody should be comfortable in their own skin and also not be hasty in judging others. But for a movie that had the potential to knock the genre out of this world, the pleasant but often pedestrian Monsters vs. Aliens remains too earthbound for its own good.