Friday, March 27, 2009
Monsters vs. Aliens -- family, friends and normalcy of Ginormica
Directors: Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon, 2009.
The latest animated feature from Dreamworks is so-so. Oh, without doubt it has great animation. In one scene a character has just been running and you can see her chest rise and fall rapidly with her breathing. It's details like this that set this and other recent animated features apart from cartoons.
Yet, this movie never really drew me in. The monsters and characters were too distant. Susan, the heroine, is too whiny throughout. And the plot seemed too familiar and derivative. Even the voice-talent was inferior to Dreamworks last feature, Kung Fu Panda. But my ten-year-old and most of the other kids in the theater seemed to have fun and enjoy this family-friendly film.
As Monsters opens, a planet explodes and one of the pieces hurtles towards earth. Meanwhile, Susan (Reese Witherspoon), a California girl, is about to get married. It's her wedding day! Susan is marrying Derek, a local ambitious weatherman. When Derek breaks the news that their honeymoon has been changed from Paris, France, to Fresno, CA, where Derek is auditioning for the next-step-up-the-ladder job, Susan's position in Derek's pecking order is clear. Left to ponder this bomb-shell, the meteorite descends like a bomb, right on top of her. Miraculously she survives, but the strange rock has changed her. She becomes a giant, growing like Jack's beanstalk even as she attempts to say her vows.
When the army is called in, she is captured and tied like Gulliver in Lilliput. Taken to a secure and secret government compound led by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), she is renamed Ginormica and meets up with four other monsters. She is no longer Susan, she is one of the monsters that people don't want to know about. Monsters are too scary. At first, Susan is horrified by them, but she comes to accept them, even love them, as her new family.
The four other monsters are derived from the horror films of the fifties and early sixties. Susan is a reference to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) is a mad scientist turned into a cockroach in one of his experiments, a scenario taken from The Fly. The evolutionary Missing Link (Will Arnett) is like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Insectosaurus is modelled off Mosura (aka Mothra in the US). And B.O.B is a take on The Blob. Of all these creatures, B.O.B was my favorite. He seemed likable, despite his lack of brain. Created from a genetically engineered tomato, he is more like Bob the Tomato of Veggie Tales than the killer tomatoes from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
Two scenes stand out, both related to a robot probe sent to earth by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson from "The Office"), an alien determined to find and recover the element that caused Susan's growth. At first the government does not know what to do. The US President (Stephen Colbert) ascends a ladder to a podium standing next to the robot. Arriving there, he begins to play the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But then he breaks into a funky tune. Totally fun.
The second scene comes when the President realizes the military cannot handle this robot. At Gen. Monger's suggestion, he sends in the monsters to take care of things. Their journey through a deserted San Francisco (shades of 28 Day's Later) and the subsequent confrontation on the Golden Gate Bridge was terrific.
When Gallaxhar decides to takes matters into his own hands, he sends a message to the earthlings: "Humans of Earth, my quest has led me to your planet. Give it to me now! You should, in no way, take any of this personally. It's just business." And that seems to symbolize this movie -- it's just business. There's no real heart. Unlike the fabulous WALL-E or the recent Coraline, this one has no personal connection.
Monsters does leave us with some ethical considerations. First, how does family and career coexist? Susan thought Derek was her soul-mate, her life-partner. But only on her wedding day does she begin to see his ambition burning selfishly within him. He was focused on his career above all. For him, family was secondary. Yet, family should take precedence over job or career. Family will always be with us. A job won't. When we lay on our death-bed, will we be regret-free? Or will we regret the time we missed with our children and our spouse? We probably won't wish we had spent more time at the office. A Christian husband is told to love his wife in the same self-sacrificing, career-sacrificing way that Jesus loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Indeed, both Christian husband and wife are to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). Derek is not a picture of this kind of person.
Moreover, Monsters makes us ask who are our real friends? Derek was Susan's friend, and almost husband. But was he really a friend to her? How do we know who our friends are? Proverbs tells us that "a friend loves at all times" (Prov. 17:17). A friend will care enough to tell us the hard truth, to be there when we need someone, to realize that his or her desires may have to take second fiddle at times.
Finally, it focuses on normalcy. When Susan grew 30 feet, she became a monster in the eyes of most. She was no longer "normal." She did not fit in. All she wanted was to shrink back to "normal" so she could go home to her friends. But she came to realize that normal is relative. When she was with the other monsters, she was normal. Normal means conforming to what is common. But, conforming is always outward-focused, looking to others for approval or acceptance. Susan finally accepted her new normal. She was no longer waiting on the acceptance of the masses. She had her own self-acceptance.
People looked at Susan as Ginormica, a giant and a monster, but they did not see the real Susan. But God is not like that. "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Our value is not in our height but in our depth. It is who we are under the skin that counts. Our value comes from being a human made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Though fallen, we are redeemed into the new, true humanity that Jesus provides (Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:49).
We can choose to be like the early Susan or the Ginormica Susan. Where do we gain our acceptance? Are we willing to accept ourselves, as God accepts us, warts and all in the normalcy of our redeemed humanity? Or are we looking for the acceptance and approval of men (1 Thess 2:4)? We are normal if we look at ourselves from God's perspective, conforming to his view of true humanity.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM