Saturday Morning Cartoon: Mark the Return of Reese Witherspoon with ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’

By  · Published on December 6th, 2014

DreamWorks Animation

Wild opens this weekend, heralding the triumphant return (and likely second Oscar nomination) of Reese Witherspoon. It’s actually only the highest profile of three performances by the actress this fall. She’s also in The Good Lie, which opened in October, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming Inherent Vice. As if that weren’t enough, she also produced Gone Girl. It’s a fortuitous few months, especially given what many consider a years-long fallow period. We’re only now emerging from the unfortunate wake of How Do You Know, This Means War, and smaller failures like Devil’s Knot. It’s about time. And, as every American knows, a good year for Witherspoon is a good year for us all.

So, to celebrate, let’s watch a cartoon! Monsters vs. Aliens opened just over two years after the star won her Oscar for Walk the Line. It was her only feature film in 2009, stuck between 2008’s Four Christmases and 2010’s How Do You Know. She’s the lead, the only technically human major character in a film about blobs and space cockroaches. Yet given the way animation isn’t taken too seriously, particularly the stuff directed toward children, no one seems to talk about the film’s massive success in the context of Witherspoon’s career. Monsters vs. Aliens wasn’t only her biggest hit during the post-Oscar slump, it made more money worldwide than anything else she’s done.

The success of the film also birthed a number of spin-offs, most of which didn’t actually involve Witherspoon directly. There are video games, a TV series, a 3D short film made for the DVD and two television specials. Witherspoon only reprises her role as Susan Murphy, the 50-foot woman, in one of these franchise properties. That actually makes her one of the least involved actors from the film’s original cast. Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland and Jeffrey Tambor all came back for more. To hear Witherspoon as Murphy in short-form animation, our only option is Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space. Lucky for us, it’s actually pretty entertaining.

Made for NBC as a Halloween special, the cartoon picks up the story of Murphy, B.O.B. (Rogen), Dr. Cockroach (Laurie) and The Missing Link (Arnett) as they hang out on their space ship getting ready for the holiday. Suddenly, in walks General Monger (Sutherland) with news of an alien-related disaster. A passing UFO has unwittingly turned an entire field of pumpkins into mutant monsters. They have to deal with the impending demise of California right away. An early indication of the short’s aggressive and not always successful sense of humor is Murphy’s reaction; “Why is it always Modesto?” This short is full of lame jokes that make you laugh anyway. The alien pumpkins erect a sign outside their farm advertising “Free pumkinz for all humanz” to lure in prey, another easy gag that likely works with equal success as a kid joke and a dad joke, without venturing into the unfortunate realm of pop culture references.

As the team splits up to search for these vindictive squash, the middle section of the cartoon gleefully devolves into a trick-or-treat montage of giddy slapstick and deadpan, awkward front door encounters with local residents passing out candy. The final battle with the pumpkins is equally ridiculous, oddly anticipating the alcohol-soaked comedy of 2012’s Irish alien invasion laugh-riot Grabbers. In Monsters vs. Aliens, of course, it isn’t booze that saves the day but copious amounts of candy. The worst incarnation of the pumpkin beast is actually pretty unnerving, a walking jack-o-lantern made from countless other demonic jack-o-lanterns. It’s a wild ride that flies by, a cartoon that a now-resurgent Reese Witherspoon should be proud of.