By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 25, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Takumi Kimura/Dreamworks Animation

Ginormica is a great name for a woman, regardless of her size. As it happens, the California girl so designated in the ginormically showy but super-average 3-D animated entertainment Monsters vs. Aliens grows into her moniker the old-fashioned sci-fi way: Born plain old Susan Murphy (and voiced by Reese Witherspoon), she’s hit on her wedding day with outer-space crud from a falling meteor, causing her to expand to 49 feet 11 inches tall. And although at first she’s understandably flummoxed by the transformation, and really steamed when military types lock her up at a top secret government compound with a hidden society of other mutated freaks, the no-longer-plain-old Susan is actually in luck. For one thing, she’s now got the figure to carry the skinny-leg-jeans look. For another, the sudden growth spurt saves her from an ?ill-advised marriage to a self-involved boob. (The doltish groom-to-be, voiced by busy Paul Rudd, holds the classic punchline job of local TV weatherman.) Shed of her small ways, this wonder woman embraces her sky-high feminine power; she becomes a female role model to, yes, look up to.

Monsters vs. Aliens is pitched to families; the cuddly drawing style is safely, un-scarily kid-friendly. (Never mind that kids, with their steel-trap memories, haven’t forgotten that Pixar already covered the whole disgruntled ogre thing excellently well eight years ago in Monsters, Inc.) But like so many animated projects welded in the DreamWorks Factory, the movie works hard — desperately hard — to be all things to all audience segments. And the visible effort erodes the sense of gaiety, of unfettered fun.

The portion of the adult audience with moviegoing memories that ?extend back before R2-D2 roamed the galaxy will easily calculate that Ginormica is exactly one inch shorter than the giant femme who sought revenge on a loutish husband in the wonderfully awful 1958 sci-fi specimen Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. This same crowd will also note similarities to plenty of other famous 1950s and ’60s-style B movies featuring monsters (irradiated and otherwise), aliens, and rudimentary 3-D effects. Ginormica makes friends with her fellow inmates, including the brainy bug-eyed Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie); a half-ape, half-fish Darwinian oddity dubbed the Missing Link (Will Arnett); and a one-eyed splotch of Blob-like blue goo called B.O.B. (Seth Rogen, happily recognizable even disguised as a…thing). There’s also a wordlessly braying 350-foot grub from the school of Mothra called Insectosaurus. Soon, the prisoners of this cartoon gulag are conscripted to battle an onslaught of Earth-attacking aliens, led by a cranky multi-eyed overlord (Rainn Wilson).

Monsters vs. Aliens is trumpeted in promotional material as the first animated feature ”wholly conceived, developed, and authored in 3-D.” (A team of three-dimensional humans wrote the script, which was directed by Shark Tale‘s Rob Letterman and Shrek 2‘s Conrad Vernon.) But the 3-D accomplishment is, in truth, a minor selling point. Is the plastic-glasses experience really any more engrossing or serious now than it was in the 1950s with novelties like It Came From Outer Space? These eyes say no. The filmmakers will inevitably have more luck enticing Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Gen-Whatever ticket buyers — young adults who swear by Stephen Colbert and Pineapple Express. After all, this iPhone crowd gets to watch Rogen in genial, stoned-stupid Pineapple Express mode, and Colbert himself — he voices President Hathaway, an American Commander-in-Chief who blends all the weak DNA of George W. Bush, Dr. Strangelove‘s President Merkin Muffley, and, indeed, the blowhard host of The Colbert Report.

No one, though, is spared the film’s constant ingratiating gobbling and repurposing of ?humor, attitudes, and pop cultural references better appreciated in their original forms — and this is the smudgy DreamWorks fingerprint left on every animated comedy from Shrek to Shark Tale to Over the Hedge. ?Monsters vs. Aliens sacrifices soul and edge for safety and bland blue goo. Witherspoon’s ? willowy Ginormica would do well to make a break for freedom, leaving more than an ?unworthy fiancé far behind. C+

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