Monday, March 30, 2009

Monsters vs Aliens vs Incredibles

I've seen various reviewers compare Pixar and Dreamworks as Disney and Warner Brothers. This comparison sells Dreamworks short. Their movies usually have more laughs than Pixar's but there is more substance than Warner Brothers cartoons (since Warner Brothers only did shorts, they never had enough screen time for anything more).

Dreamworks Monsters vs Aliens just came out. The Incredibles is the closest thing to it that Pixar has produced (and still one of their best) so I'm going to compare the two.

Warning - I'm not going to go into the plots in detail but this will contain minor spoilers.

The basic set-up of both movies has similar elements. In one, the government has outlawed costumed heroes and placed them in safe, boring everyday jobs. In the other, the government decided to keep the existence of monsters secret and has rounded them up and is holding them in a secret facility.

The Incredibles focuses mainly on Bob, Mr. Incredible, as he goes from superhero and newlywed to insurance adjuster in a soul-crushing job and his return as a superhero. Along the way he learns to depend on others instead of acting solo.

Monsters vs Aliens
is about Susan, Ginormica, as she goes from her wedding day to being locked up for being 50 feet tall (give or take an inch) and her transformation into hero. Along the way she learns self-reliance and that geeks may embarrass you but they will not desert you.

There are a few scenes in common between the two movies. They both have five heroes facing off against a giant robot to save a city. In both movies, the main characters finally receive acceptance through conspicious acts of heroism.

What about the Warner Brothers comaprison?

The Incredibles is pretty much deadpan. There are a few scenes put in for comic relief - a neighborhood child who keeps watching Bob to see what will happen next, Frozone asking for his super suit. Monsters plays the main plot straight but a lot of humor comes from Susan's fellow monsters, especially BOB the Blob who is a natural clown. The scenes with the President are all for comic relief, similar to Scrat's appearances in the Ice Age movies. Monsters ends up having a lot more humor than Incredibles but compartmentalizes it. Except for some pratfalls caused by her size, Susan is never a humorous character. She is also more sympathetic than Mr. Incredible who borders on being a jerk at times.

Susan's character is handled deftly. At the beginning she is rather shallow, obsessed with going to Paris on her honeymoon. She is also repelled by minor physical deformities. The movie's focus is almost exclusively on her rather than being split between the four members of the Incredibles family so there is more screen time for her to grow as a character (no pun intended). By the end of the movie she has accepted her role as monster/defender of humanity and has the audience rooting for her.

Now that I've said all of that, I will admit that the way the monsters disguise themselves in the alien ship is right out of Warner Brothers. There are a lot of in-jokes about other monster movies. The President and his advisors are outright silly (with perfect casting of Stephen Colbert as the President).

Monsters has a lot more laughs but it still makes an emotional connection - a difficult combination.

Pixar's Up comes out later this year. It will be interesting to see which movie takes the best animation for 2009. Dreamworks has a real shot at beating Pixar.

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