Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens (DVD)

“Summer can’t last forever.”

The Ben 10 franchise debuted with the original series in 2005. Since then, the characters have grown and developed far beyond their initial kid-friendly, designed-to-sell-toys origin.

Making the jump from traditional 2-D animation to full on CGI animation, the creators have returned to the setting and style of the original series with this stand-alone feature, Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens. We’re back at the beginning with 10-year-old Ben still learning to be a hero.

During the course of a highly eventful summer, Ben Tennyson (Tara Strong, Teen Titans) became wielder of the Omnitrix, a device which allows him to turn into about ten different super-powered aliens. Working alongside his cousin Gwen (Meagan Smith, Surf’s Up) and his grandfather Max (Paul Eiding, Superman vs. The Elite), Ben fought evil and saved the universe.

Now, though, summer is over, and Ben is back in school, living the ordinary life of chores and homework. When aliens attack and Omnitrix creator Azmuth goes missing, will Ben take off into space on adventure, or will he stay true to his responsibilities? Can a true hero do both?

Purists might be turned off by the switch to all-CGI, but in this movie, the creators make a good case justifying it. There’s a playful sense of “let’s see what this new tech can do” in the animation. Sweeping camera moves, detailed textures, dynamic lighting, and vast expanses of background are all employed. Sure, all these things could be accomplished in traditional animation, but with great difficulty. With CGI, there are a little of little tricks the animators could not do before. Upgrade, one of Ben’s Omnitrix aliens, gets a lot of screentime. He’s made of liquid metal, and in this movie they’ve given him a slightly reflective surface. This makes him look truly metallic for the first time. The characters sometimes have that stiffness that low-budget CGI characters suffer from, but for the most part, their movements and facial expressions are close to what they were in the original series.

The story is very simplistic. This is an “all-they-do-is-fight” cartoon, with only a hint of the wit and sophistication the franchise showed during its prime in Ben 10 Alien Force. The message is somewhat mixed. We’re told it’s wrong for Ben to sneak out of the house to fight evil, because of his school responsibilities. But, isn’t fighting evil also his responsibility? Of the two villains, one is the same species as Upgrade, who has an interesting motivation once the fighting slows down long enough for us to learn it. The other villain spends most of the movie as a mindless monster, but it’s one that has ties to Ben 10 history.

But, really, this one’s all about alien fighting, so let’s talk alien fighting. This means more experimenting with all that CGI offers. Massive alien Waybig makes a return, so the animators can really play around with a sense of enormous scale, as parts of the movie are throwbacks to old school Godzilla action. A lot of Ben’s original ten aliens make appearances, and the action takes the characters all over the globe, onto other planets, and even into a virtual world. Each new locale offers new opportunities for dramatic lighting and interaction with the environment. Therefore, although the movie is almost nothing but fighting, it’s not repetitive.

Given the digital creation of the movie, it’s a no-brainer that the DVD visual quality is spot-on. The 2.0 audio is good, too, with clean dialogue and booming explosions. It’s about time we got some real bonus features on a Ben 10 release. A producer and writer commentary covers the challenges of learning a new animation medium for the movie. This is backed up by three featurettes which further show how much work went into the animation. Rounding out the package are some deleted scenes and an art gallery.

• Ben has those two tufts on hair on his head, but in 3-D, it doesn’t look like hair. It’s more like he’s wearing a big brown bow, or those quirky anime girl cat-girl ears.
• Gwen’s magic powers are a lot more powerful now than they were in the original series. It’s easy to assume she’s studied a lot from then until now, but a line of dialogue confirming such would’ve been nice.
• Azmuth’s voice is completely different. I get that actors sometimes need to be recast, but couldn’t they have tried to find someone who sounds similar?

I came into this one expecting to be disappointed with the changes, but the filmmakers won me over. Not the best Ben 10 adventure, but still enjoyable.

The Verdict

Not Omni-guilty.

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