It's gotten to the point where animators have run out of talking animals to put on the big screen. Cats, turtles, bears and even fish took turns in the CGI spotlight. But there are only so many situations into which you can wedge a chatty penguin before it becomes boring. That's why many animated movies these days replace the talking raccoons and hippos with talking cars and robots.
But even with a new breed of gabby objects onscreen, the storytelling usually doesn't stray far from the formula. There's always a lesson to be learned — usually something about staying true to yourself and your friends. There's always an obstacle to overcome. And there are always tons of pop-culture references that often go over the heads of the films' pint-sized audiences.
Even though Monsters vs. Aliens incorporates new characters to the talking-animal genre (actually, Pixar got there first eight years ago with the otherworldly creatures of Monsters, Inc.), it's still the same mix of elements. Plus, the pop-culture references are piled on thick for fans of Oprah, Dr. Strangelove and B-movies from the '50s.
The opening scenes set up the plight of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride hit by a piece of space junk on her wedding day. She soon begins glowing and growing. The government tosses her into a cell with other imprisoned oddities: Dr. Cockroach, an oversized, lab coat-wearing roach (Hugh Laurie); a fish-man called the Missing Link (Will Arnett); Insectosaurus, a ginormous bug; and B.O.B., a jumbo blob of blue Jell-O that sounds like (and is) Seth Rogen. When a four-eyed, tentacled alien attacks Earth, the monsters are recruited to save the planet from the imminent invasion.
Monsters vs. Aliens certainly makes good on its promise of the titular creatures. And it looks great (be sure to see it in 3D — the sci-fi spectacle leaps off the screen). But there isn't much of a story here, just a series of spectacularly staged battles and occasionally funny visual gags: Susan wielding two cars like roller skates, Dr. Cockroach cracking an alien's super-secret lock as a game of Dance Dance Revolution, B.O.B. hitting on a plate of Jell-O.
There's a not-so-hidden message about not judging people (in this case, friendly world-saving monsters) by the way they look. There's also some girl-power cheerleading, as Susan literally grows into herself. But Monsters vs. Aliens is mostly about monsters, aliens and a mountainous mass of goo sounding stoned out of its gelatinous mind.