Monster Trucks (3D) ***

Don’t be fooled by the title; this is where machine and beast meet, not the kind of engine-driven trucks seen at Santa Pod and the like. Once you get your head around WHY such a monster would want to bed down within a clapped-out old pick-up, the daftness that is Monster Trucks is replaced by a certain fondness for the squid-like animal within, which the kids really do grow to love – once they’ve finished jumping out of their seats at its initial introduction.

Like any teen, Tripp (Lucas Till) is desperate to escape his small-town life and builds a Monster Truck out of scrapped cars at his local garage where he works part-time (run by Danny Glover’s character). An accident at the town’s oil-drilling site causes a ‘monster displacement’ and results in one taking refuge inside Tripp’s truck.

This oil-guzzling creature becomes an unlikely asset and friend to Tripp who makes it his mission to get the creature home – helped by Tripp-infatuated school chum Meredith (Jane Levy), after the oil company ‘baddies’ led by arch villain Rob Lowe‘s character try to prevent the beast and others like it returning to the lucrative, oil-rich drilling site.

This action-filled family adventure plucks at the heartstrings in many ways, unashamedly so too. We do sympathise with Tripp’s difficult family situation and immediately understand the developing bond between him and the monster as both needs protecting in their own special ways.

There is a lot of fun to be had while the film-makers berate greedy oil barons and America’s obsession with mining the liquid gold stuff. In a way, it’s a family adventure for the avid/budding environmentalist, with the mantra of ‘look at the damage caused by fossil fuels’ running right the way through, while strangely, worshipping petrol-head heaven in action.

For smaller kids, it has all that is needed to entertain; monsters, speed, trucks and chases, and the story is more than clear to any under five (as in my son’s case), especially as ‘Crank’ – as the monster is named – returns in The Abyss-style glory at the end. It is simplistic to the point of tedium for adults at times, but watched with small folk, can be quite exhilarating to experience together.

Monster Trucks is nothing profound – in fact, as to alerting young minds to environmental issues go, all-time classic WALL.E beats hands down. However, it does things in an immensely fun and loud fashion and in a way that kids will instantly connect to, guided by a young, good-looking hero-of-the-hour in Tripp. In an unexpected twist, it may just prove to be a school holidays’ box-office hit.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Alpha and Omega – 2*

Pixar is just not doing other animators any favours, especially in the 3D stakes. So, for a new non-Pixar film to stand out, it has to have something extra special and memorable about it. Crest Animation’s Alpha and Omega is sadly going to be remembered by this critic as a ‘Timotei ad for wolves with great hair’ because the 3D and the story lack body and bite – even with all the greatest will and intention to plug a smaller studio production.
We’re introduced to an amicable enough bunch of canine characters that in all honesty, and with a bit of clever marketing, considering the emphasise placed on hair dos, could be sold as dolls at Christmas, complete with their own mini bottles of shampoo (you heard it here first). However, even with voices lent by Hayden Panettiere, Justin Long, Danny Glover, Dennis Hooper and Christina Ricci, Alpha wolf Kate and Omega wolf Humphrey still fail to rise to the top of the pack of animated offerings out there, and merely offer a pleasing diversion from reality for one hour plus, rather than any longer, more poignant attachment like Woody and co., or Sulley and team do. These wolves may even go off radar by the time the festive season arrives, consigned to the DVD list, and up against better Pixar titles. This is not to say there isn’t room for more emotive animated characters to capture our hearts and imaginations, it’s just that Kate and Humphrey just don’t fully engage us.

In our humble opinion – and it has nothing to do with the quality of the animation, one main reason for this could be the lack of adventure that Pixar makes sure it gets absolutely right: If we don’t go the distance with our furry friends, we can’t possibly be expected to empathise with their plight and their end jubilation. Apart from hitchhiking their way home and meeting two of the funniest characters in the film, a golf-loving turkey and his sarcastic associate, one minute our wayward pair are lost, far from home, the next Kate and Humphrey are swiftly projected back to face the growing pressure between the two packs, without any hairs out of place. Yes, there is a bear incident in the meantime, but not much else to allow us (or our leads) to truly bond.

Admittedly, Humphrey and friends teach us the true meaning of friendship, if the jokes and antics are a little clichéd and stoke feelings of déjà vu, from Ice Age to The Jungle Book. Like every animation rightfully teaches us, everyone can get along with a little compromise and understanding, and Alpha and Omega is no different and is therefore difficult to knock for all its good-intended morality. But it does lack originality. That said a notable and quirky moment is Garth’s inability to howl at the moon, causing the birds to quite literally fall from the sky and this, combined with a toe-tapping soundtrack, in addition to the hair fashion statements, will getting the film talked about.

Can Alpha and Omega stand on its own four feet in the 3D market? At least it doesn’t have Toy Story 3D to contend with, come September. The most troubling thing about this animation and others like it, is the film-makers’ almost dismissive and misguided belief that throw a bunch of A Lister stars’ voices at it, and it will somehow work its magic at the box office. From experience, it doesn’t. It’s the story that just seems to lack meat on its bones to tempt even the hungriest of animation fans out of their cozy dens to see it.

2/5 stars

By L G-K