Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified.
Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
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In the grand scheme of things, Dreamworks Animation has long been the top competitor to Pixar. In a lot of cases, they have been more consistently edgy and challenging to the medium. However, there is one thing that they haven't had too much success with: sci-fi. This weekend sees the release of their latest film Home, which follows a little girl (Rihanna) and an alien (Jim Parsons) as they go on journeys together. From the look of the trailers and reviews, it doesn't look like it will be doing too hot at the box office this weekend. However, what if I were to tell you that there was a better sci-fi movie that the studio released six years ago? Why yes, I am talking about Monsters vs. Aliens.
For starters, it greatly upsets me that there hasn't been much of an acclaim for the film. While it has spawned a TV series and two holiday specials, there hasn't been a cry for more films much like the studio's Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon or Shrek franchises. However, there was something exciting about the film that is kind of ridiculed nowadays. It is something that feels very opportune based on its genre and its continual satire. Months before Avatar took the world by storm and convinced everyone to post-convert their film to 3D, Monsters vs. Aliens used it to decent effect in a way that embraced the hokey 50's b-movie homages that it intended to satirize.
Could it just be that children wouldn't know about The Blob or Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, of which characters were based? Probably. However, it is an interesting nod to the campy films from decades ago that would seem apropos to the animation medium. The film embraced this technique by allowing characters to evolve and change while sticking true to the genre's existence. Characters like B.O.B., which may only be loosely based on pre-existing properties, had the ability to adapt to modern settings with the familiar outcast story of its lead Susan (Reese Witherspoon) as she becomes Ginormica; a 50 foot woman. The rest features, as the title suggests, conflicts with aliens and monsters in madcap and exciting ways.
Much like the Shrek series, the film works more if you have a scholarly knowledge of the sci-fi b-movie culture. However, it isn't a necessity because none of the characters feel rooted in giving too much emphasis on them. They are more characters who exist in a comedic world in which the jokes are more character based than historically based. However, the all-star voice cast manages to bring them all to life in exciting and interesting ways. While it may be the sloppier film in the golden era of Dreamworks Animation films, it still packs a punch and makes for some exciting moments of animation. Take for instance the moment when Ginormica skates through San Francisco while using two cars. Yes, it is illogical, but the kinetic energy gives it a pop that elevates it to something far greater and interesting.
I cannot claim that people will love the film as much as I do. In fact, some will likely find it simply quaint. However, there's already an obnoxious part of me pointing out how Monsters vs. Aliens looks better. It just has more of a bite and results in more accessible humor. I feel that Home could be good, but it is more reliant on cutesy humor than anything resembling worthy plot. Maybe it's just because the care that went into the references of Monsters vs. Alien makes it feel more genuine. However, I don't feel like I will be swayed too much.
It does make me worry about Dreamworks Animation however if Home is supposed to be one of their big releases. Where last year saw the towering triumph of How to Train Your Dragon 2, this doesn't look to be trying all that hard. I don't claim to think that one film botches an entire studio, but I do hope for better from them, especially with the return of Pixar set for this summer. However, if you want to introduce your family to great animated sci-fi, I don't see there being much better options than this (or Lilo & Stitch, which was an alternative to Alternative to What, but I wanted to stay within studio). Most of all, it serves as the perfect accessible point for kids to be exposed to a great and elaborate history of film.