Monsters vs. Aliens: It Ain't No Kung Fu Panda

I was hoping Monsters vs. Aliens might be a documentary about the American Trial Lawyers Association vs. the Taliban. Maybe both sides would get wiped out? However, it turns out the movie is a cartoon about a gelatinous blue blob, a brainy cockroach, a fish-man, and an oafish grub, all of whom are being held prisoner at a secret government hideaway ("this place is an X-File wrapped in a cover-up and deep fried in a conspiracy.") They are joined by a bride, who, when she encounters a radioactive meteorite, turns into an ungainly 50-foot feminist. Picture a sexy Janet Reno. Okay, that's asking too much.

The bride (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is the least interesting of the monsters, yet has the central role as the zanier creatures befriend her while defending the earth against an alien invasion led by a four-eyed squid called Gallaxhar (the superb Rainn Wilson of The Office), who reassures the earthlings, "Just to recap -- I come in peace. I mean you no harm, and you all will die."

This DreamWorks film more or less continues a pattern: Pixar movies are (usually) classics, whereas DreamWorks movies drop lots of allusions to classics. Funny sequences like a riff on the alien-attracting melody in Close Encounters of the Third Kind keep things entertaining but also give the movie the disposability of late-night sketch comedy. This uneven comedy is a cute but routine spoof of flying saucer movies loaded with pop culture references ("Oh, spaceballs!" is one exclamation of woe). More than a few of the jokes are labored: "The earth's getting warmer? It would be great to know that. It would be a very convenient truth."

Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't meet the standards of recent cartoon features like last year's Kung Fu Panda and it's far short of more grownup animated fare like Ratatouille, but it has plenty of roaring action scenes. When an alien robot probe attacks San Francisco, the 50-foot woman sticks her feet in a couple of convertibles and uses them as roller skates. Scenes like these are designed to please the kiddies, especially those who see the film at one of the many theaters offering it in 3-D (an effect that requires bulky glasses handed to you at the door).