It’s a rarity akin to finding that 100th monkey who can type “Hamlet” — even through “Monsters vs. Aliens” is one of the season’s most saturation-advertised films, it actually lives up to the hype. Combining creepy-crawly creatures with exhilarating action, eye-popping animation (see it in 3D if at all possible) and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sharp, smart laughs, it’s a treat for all ages.
Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is looking forward to her wedding to self-centered weatherman Derek (Paul Rudd), but when a stray meteorite hits her just before the ceremony, Susan grows to gigantic proportions. (Any resemblance to “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” is purely intentional and just one of the film’s many references to classic horror films from “The Fly” to “The Beach Girls and the Monster.”)
Captured by the government and placed under the watch of General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), Susan is informed that she is now considered a monster (codename: Ginormica) and will be sequestered in a secret base that also contains half-man, half-bug Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie); lab-created and joyfully moronic blob B.O.B. (Seth Rogen); bi-pedal coed-snatching fish man The Missing Link (Will Arnett); and the Mothra-sized fuzzy caterpillar known as Insectosaurus.
The monsters are brought out of hiding when obnoxious alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) sends an enormous robot to Earth to find the meteor that transformed Susan, and when the terrestrial creatures vanquish the device, Gallaxhar himself invades with plans to colonize the planet with his clones.
Can the monsters defeat him? Will Susan discover that she prefers the life of Ginormica to that of a weatherman’s wife? And will the literally brainless B.O.B. find true love with a Jell-O mold?
If Pixar has become the new millennial equivalent to old-school Disney, this latest DreamWorks Animation takes the classic Warner Bros. approach, launching a barrage of clever and anarchic gags from both barrels. The movie’s kid-friendly gross-out humor and clever satire also owe a debt to Mad magazine — no wonder that “Monsters”’ air-headed and arrogant commander-in-chief character (the perfectly-cast Stephen Colbert) resembles that publication’s Dave Berg (of “The Lighter Side of…” fame).
While the jokes take a back seat to the action in the film’s big climax, there are earlier moments that rank among the most fighting-for-breath funny stuff I’ve seen at the movies in ages. (I can’t begin to do justice to a running gag that happens during Gen. Monger’s debriefing of the president, but I was literally in tears by the final punch line.)
Witherspoon seems to be having fun, for once, although it’s the second bananas (particularly Rogen and Laurie) who get the most laughs. Matching the strength of the voice cast (which also includes Amy Poehler and John Krasinski) is the witty script, which deftly avoids rehashing the same old plot beats of so many other recent cartoons.
Perhaps the most succinct compliment I can pay “Monsters vs. Aliens” is that it lives up to the promise of its tantalizing title.