Of monsters & phantoms

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I may not have a brain … but I have an idea.” –B.O.B., short for “Bicarbonate Ostylezene Benzonate,” from the movie Monsters vs. Aliens

I usually cringe when I take my kids to the movies, watching the lowbrow, scatological humor they’re served up – oft-times laced with a big dollop of mean-spirited insults hurled between many of the characters considered “friends” in the film. I expected as much when I took them to see the new DreamWorks film “Monsters vs. Aliens” this past weekend – but instead got a very refreshing surprise for a change.

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[We pause here to inform my good friend Jim McNamara at Volvo Trucks North America of the following: No, I’ve not run out of trucking items to talk about; I am talking about this movie because there IS a trucking tie in -- if you'll bear with me -- and, frankly, there’s so much depressing news in the trucking business right now that I needed a break from it.]

The movie follows the adventures of five “monsters” and their handler General W.R. Monger as they attempt to repel an invasion by the alien head-case GallaxarSusan Murphy, a.k.a. "Ginormica,” a woman made 50 stories tall by exposure to radioactive “quantonium” from a meteor; B.O.B., a brainless, indestructible gelatinous blob; Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., a mad scientist with the head and abilities of a cockroach; the Missing Link, an amphibious fish-ape hybrid; and Insectosaurus, a colossal grub made even larger than Susan by exposure to “traditional” radiation from a nuclear bomb test.

[You can see all the monsters in action by watching the movie’s trailer below.]

It’s goofy and funny, yes, with plenty of the aforementioned lowbrow humor, but what really struck me about this film are the true friendships between the monsters. There’s no trading of insults, no mean-spirited laughs at the expense of others. B.O.B. is utterly clueless, yet he’s not made the butt of jokes by his comrades, unlike many recent films (such as “Tropic Thunder”) that revel in the verbal abuse of “retards.”

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They aren’t mean to one another and gradually become friends by the end of the film – they ARE friends, right from the start, and in the best way possible. In a scene near the end, three of the monsters – Dr. Cockroach, the Missing Link, and B.O.B. – are trapped on Gallaxar’s self-destructing space ship. Link and Dr. C. know they are going to die (they don’t, of course, but that comes later) and instead of the standard hysterical running around, Link calmly puts out his hand to Dr. C. and says simply, “Doc, it’s been a real pleasure.”

Doc does the same, whereupon B.O.B. chimes in, “Right, then … lunch tomorrow guys?” Yet instead of some darkly ironic comment or cutting sarcasm, Link simply says, “Absolutely B.O.B.; I wouldn’t miss it.” And Dr. C. adds in sincerely, “And we’re going to have balloons and cake, just for you.” B.O.B. of course thinks that is the greatest and hugs them both, saying “Wow! I LOVE you guys!”

The scene is done with real honest feeling, as anyone would do in the real world – making sure a friend is comfortable, happy even, despite being on the brink of disaster. It’s not what you expect from a film like this.

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It reminded me of a similar theme sounded in that classic trucking “ghost story” told by the great Red Sovine: “Phantom 309.” The typical ghost stories you read/watch today are all about malevolent spirits seeking to rip humans into pieces – usually with as much gore and screaming as possible.

That’s why the story of “Big Joe” and his “Phantom 309Mack truck always delighted me – it plays against type.

Big Joe gives highway hitchhikers a lift from the rainy crossroads where he died to the truck stop down the road, flipping them a dime when they part for a “hot one on old Joe” without any spooky nonsense – he’s still out to do his best to leave the world a little better than he found it; even if he’s not alive anymore.

[Take a listen to the classic of classics – Red Sovine’s “Phantom 309” – and you’ll see what I mean.]

Watching “Monsters vs. Aliens” reminded me of Sovine’s tale for that reason – so what if the characters in each story are monsters or phantom spirits? That doesn’t mean they can’t be decent friends to each other or to strangers on the road for that matter. And it’s refreshing to see such a classic value come back into a mainstream movie for a change. I’m sure it would bring a smile to the face of “Big Joe” if he could see it.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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