Monsters vs. Aliens is a finely crafted action movie with some hit or miss comedic interludes, occasionally lifting it to higher levels. The creators at Paramount/Dreamworks fill the screen with nice visual touches and creative action sequences but fail to achieve the type of magic that Pixar seems to be able to reproduce over and over again. This still means it's one of the best family films so far this year, but an animated classic it is not, even though it's likely to leave audiences of all ages with a smile on their faces.

As usual for animated features, the plot is relatively straightforward. The story starts with bride-to-be Susan (Reese Witherspoon) readying herself to exchange vows with her fiancé Derek (Paul Rudd). Interrupting the happy event, however, is a meteorite filled with quantonium, which crash lands directly on Susan and causes her to grow several stories taller.

Instead of a honeymoon in Paris, she is slapped with the new name of Ginormica and whisked away to a secret government facility, where she is kept with the other monsters that the United States has stockpiled over the years. There we meet B.O.B., a literally brainless blob voiced by Seth Rogen; the Hugh Laurie voiced scientist Dr. Cockroach, who supposedly used to be the smartest man in the world; and The Missing Link, a weight lifting monster voiced by Will Arnett. There's also the gigantic Insectosaurus, a former grub that has transformed into a 350-foot dimwitted monster with a heart of gold, though he doesn't say much other than the occasional grunt or two.

In the hidden secret facility they are held captive indefinitely, until a convenient alien invasion forces the United States to employ the monsters as weapons against the superior alien technology. This sets up the required action sequences that are creative and filled with striking visual detail. In one such sequence, Ginormica desperately claws at a rooftop in order to keep from falling, though when she does fall she remembers that she's 40 feet tall and could have just placed her feet on the ground.

But while the action is top-notch, much of the dialogue seems to be a weak attempt to keep adult audiences interested with pop culture references and cultural commentary. At one point, the Missing Link steps out into the warm air and comments that it's a convenient truth that the atmosphere seems to be heating up. Other feeble commentary has the President of the United States trying to decide which button is used to engage nuclear weaponry and which one is used to pour a cup of coffee.

When the movie sticks to pop culture references, however, it generally works more effectively. One of the funniest scenes has the President trying in vain to communicate with the alien spacecraft by using the famous five tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Inside the comic lunacy of Monsters vs. Aliens, Stephen Colbert providing the voice of President Hathaway just feels right.

The scenes inside the President's situation room maintain that comic lunacy in a background meant to resemble the famous war room in Dr. Strangelove. Inside the situation room, Kiefer Sutherland does his best George C. Scott impression in his portrayal of General W.R. Monger, which gives way to some big laughs.

Rainn Wilson as the zany Gallaxhar, the militant alien leader, also works particularly well, as does Rogen as the brainless B.O.B., who has a funny way of telling the truth while others attempt to skirt the facts.

When the film remains in humorous pop references and full-throttle action, it does work as a very strong family entertainment that has a little bit for everybody, which is the current model for big budget animated productions. At other times though, it half-heartedly attempts to install cliché-ridden messages about accepting people for who they really are. This is a noble message for kids, of course, and perhaps it would have worked if it hadn't been the same message used by incalculable amounts of animated features before. Unfortunately, in Monsters vs. Aliens it feels like the message is thrown in haphazardly to give it the appearance of a more complete family film.

However, this is more of a reflection upon family features as a whole and reminds audiences how truly difficult it is to provide entertainment for a wide variety of ages. Overall, Monsters vs. Aliens is still effective entertainment that is leagues ahead of many other family features. While Paramount/Dreamworks hasn't completely escaped the enormous shadow of Pixar, Monsters vs. Aliens is a fun movie with a few big laughs, intricate animation and some state-of-the art 3-D effects, likely adding up to another overall crowd pleaser.

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