Give Monsters vs. Aliens credit for pulling off a feat not yet accomplished by rival studio Pixar: making a big-budget animated adventure with a female lead. And feel free to then shake your head at the depressing thinness of said woman’s—and the film in general’s—story, a lightweight saga about not being a doormat to egomaniacal men and embracing your, um, inner superpowered 50-foot-tall monster? As per DreamWorks convention, Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon’s tale is a nicely CGied, mildly amusing trifle without a sturdy—or, in this case, even coherent—thematic backbone, though if its plot is slight and its combat is ho-hum, at least Shrek-ish fart and poop jokes have been set aside in favor of innocuous goofiness.
On her wedding day to a narcissistic TV weatherman (Paul Rudd), Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is crushed by a glowing meteor that then causes her to grow as tall as a house and bestows her with extraordinary strength. Captured by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), Susan is paired with other misfit monsters kept under lock and key by Uncle Sam, including blob B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a fish creature known as the Missing Link (Will Arnett), and giant radioactive grub Insectosaurus, an eccentric crew that’s soon called into service by the president (Stephen Colbert) to stop an alien invasion led by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson). It’s a supposed clash of the titans that generates only a modicum of actual excitement, as the directors’ combination of blithe joviality and hectic set pieces is so rapid-fire rushed that the enterprise comes off as just a shallow, cartoony light-and-sound show.
Monsters vs. Aliens races about in search of the next witty zinger, for-adults-only pop-culture reference, and slam-bang skirmish, the latter of which—despite being technically adept, moderately clever, and eye-popping in 3D—mainly succeeds at reminding one of the superior superhero-squad battles of The Incredibles. Handling its various comedic-action obligations with competence, but scant inventiveness, it’s a film fit to only temporarily divert kids’ attention, and to get adults thinking about stealing a quick nap.