Monsters Vs. Aliens Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

Monsters Vs. Aliens Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
As a Saturday afternoon distraction, Monsters Vs. Aliens is pleasant enough. As an exercise in the ever-evolving modern art of 3D, it's remarkable. But living, as we are, in the golden age of Pixar, it's second-rate, unable to achieve the filmic grace, the storytelling mastery or the depth of character that seem to come with ease at the rival animation studio.

Monsters Vs. Aliens concerns a group of "monsters" held at a massive, top-secret government facility. (Why? Who are they? Where do they come from? Don't ask; the film won't tell.) When Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is struck by a radioactive meteor and transforms into 50-foot woman Ginormica, she too goes off to monster prison. It's only when Earth is invaded by powerful aliens that the monsters are let loose to save the world.

The whole premise is merely a flimsy backdrop to showcase, well, monsters versus aliens in some seriously awesome animated smack down sequences, and here, the 3D really pays off, in the depth and detail more than the pop-out wow. But spoiled as we are by the likes of Wall-E and The Incredibles, there's a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.

Where Wall-E engages the sci-fi tradition of ideas (where does our culture of consumer convenience ultimately leave us?), Monsters Vs. Aliens is content to simply reference other sci-fi films. (The President, voiced by Stephen Colbert, attempts alien communication by playing the theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then Beverly Hills Cop.)

The assembled monster team suffer through some on-the-nose jokes (led by General W.R. Monger, voiced by Keifer Sutherland); of those, Seth Rogan as a gelatinous blob does the best work and gets the most laughs. That there are five credited writers is a bad sign, but that director Letterman made Shark Tale and Vernon worked on Shrek 2 tells you everything you need to know. In short: rent Bolt and wait for Up. (Dreakworks/Paramount)