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Planet 51

A 2009 animated film directed by Jorge Blanco.

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Unbelievable Potential but Misses the Mark

  • Sep 8, 2010

As far as premises go, it’s tough to beat Planet 51’s: Take the cliché alien movies of the 1950s and reverse the formula- instead of a good-hearted alien coming to Earth, send a good-hearted human to an alien world (that just so happens to look just like earth in the 1950s) hence making mankind the alien.

There are many layers of brilliance in this structure and after taking in multiple previews that showed a film that seemed to capitalize on all of this cleverness, it was with great anticipation that I went into this one.  Sadly it falls pretty short of the expectations I laid out for it beforehand.  But more on that later.

The story follows the alien Lem (voiced by Justin Long), a misguided teenage astronomer who works at the local observatory.

Not unlike teens on earth, Lem crushes on his next-door neighbor Neera (voiced by
Jessica Biel), who finds herself rather taken with a hippie protester; the opposite of the preppy astronomer-type if you will.

The small suburban community they call home is flipped upside down when an authentic spaceship from another world happens to land in Lem's backyard. The alien turns out to be one Captain Chuck Baker (voiced by former wrestler Dwayne Johnson in a nearly unrecognizable performance), a slightly egotistical, block headed NASA astronaut with genuine good intentions.

See Chuck, it turns out, along with his robotic companion Rover (who was a dog-like probe sent to the planet prior to his arrival) are stranded on Planet 51 with only a matter of days to return to the landing capsule so they can return to the orbiting mother ship before its automatic pilot activates, sending it back to Earth.

Lem halfhearted helps Chuck with his mission to get home despite the risk of bing a traitor to his planet if discovered by the anti-alien, fear-mongering General Grawl (voiced by the ever-versatile Gary Oldman).

Yes it’s a cute premise, yes there is creativity potential just bursting out of every nook and cranny but no, the filmmakers have somehow skimped over these aspects to deliver what could very well be one of the sloppiest animated features of all time.

For starters we have this alien world that is nearly identical to 1950s earth on down to our own musicians playing on their radios! Huh? Did they intercept our radio wave transmissions? If so why not say mention this?  Is it possible we intercepted theirs back then? Oh jeez, anyway none of this is explained nor is the timeframe of earth ever presented.  Is Chuck from modern day earth or is it the 1950s back here as well? It may even be our own distant future considering, at present, we’re unable to travel to planets outside of our own system.

Anyway, this is a kids film after all so don’t let me wax poetic about the scientific plot holes.  However, it’s still got problems even these flaws exempted!  The 1950s references (and they are a plenty) will be 99.9% lost upon the intended audience.  How many kids these days know that 1950s cars had tail fins or that the pompadour and letterman’s jacket was all the rage back then? Half the adults I know didn’t get that!

Then there are the movie spoofs- the residents of the planet keep acid breathing pets that were transplanted from the ALIEN films, there’s a rover that borrows heavily from Wall-E without any of the charm, there are Star Wars quotes and Terminator impressions.. Not crimes in their own right of course, but the humor here just never establishes any sort of rhythm.  The jokes are rather all over the place in terms of intended age groups and complexity but none are really too funny.

Additionally the film simply doesn’t flow or wrap-up quickly enough to hold most children’s interest.  Couple this to references and gimmicks that few, if any, younger folk will understand and you end with an animated film that makes you kind of wonder who in the world this thing is really for.

I wouldn’t say it’s unwatchable by any means but in conclusion, this is a rather muddled finished product that fails to deliver on the clean animation and clever premise that make it seem so worthy initially.  The biggest tragedy is the opportunities missed- this one is fair but it feels like it worked hard to avoid greatness.

Unbelievable Potential but Misses the Mark Unbelievable Potential but Misses the Mark Unbelievable Potential but Misses the Mark Unbelievable Potential but Misses the Mark

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September 08, 2010
I like this one a little more every time I watch it, not perfect but I like it.
September 08, 2010
Hm. Sounds pretty routine. I haven't seen this yet, but I'll catch it on HBO or something. I do like the ALIEN pets! Nice one again, Jay! Hey, you got my message?
September 08, 2010
Yes I had such high expectations for this. It had all the ingredients but the finished recipe, a little flat :( Oh and I did my friend. Looking as we speak.
More Planet 51 reviews
review by . May 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Planet 51 is probably the the funniest sci-fi animated film I've seen. The animation is great - better in my opinion than the much-vaunted Pixar. The best part of the movie was its sly references and characters of other sci-fi classics. The two "dogs" - the alien dog (based on H.R. Giger's Alien) and the human astronaut's rover - steal the show. However, the rest of the cast works well (and Jessica Biel manages to stay hot even with green skin). Kids will probably enjoy it as an action flick, but …
review by . December 07, 2009
No Life on This Planet
I was reading a book about and by Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki. One of his many quips that I underlined expressed his sentiment that within the first few minutes of watching most animations you get the feeling that you know everything about it. I've had this feeling when I've encountered most movie trailers, and is usually why most trailers succeed in keeping me away from the movie. This is not what happened with Planet 51.      The trailer and very concept for …
review by . March 25, 2010
Again Hollywood shows a knack for copying itself in too many ways. In this case, 2009 saw 3 different CGI-animated movies released about humans landing on another planet, and showing how the residents of the other planet react. These were Avatar, Battle for Terra, and Planet 51. This last one was the comedy, and stars a cast of multiple big name actors and actresses such as Jessica Biel and the Rock. The premise is simple enough, a US astronaut lands on a planet inhabited by green, humanoid life …
About the reviewer

Ranked #14
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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About this movie


Planet 51
is a 2009 animated film directed by Jorge Blanco, written by Joe Stillman and starring Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Seann William Scott, Gary Oldman, and John Cleese. Produced by Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios and HandMade Films for $70 million, it was acquired for US distribution by New Line Cinema in November 2007. Planet 51 was released on November 20, 2009, by Sony Pictures Worldwide via TriStar Pictures. It was originally titled Planet One,[1] but re-named Planet 51. With a budget of about $70 million (€49 million), Planet 51 is the most expensive movie produced in Spain.

American astronaut Captain Charles "Chuck" Baker, lands on Planet 51 thinking he's the first person to step foot on it. To his surprise, he finds that this planet is inhabited by little green people who are happily living in a white picket fence world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America, and whose only fear is that it will be overrun by alien invaders--like Chuck! With...&#160;See Full DescriptionGenres:Action/Adventure, Art/Foreign, Comedy, Kids/Family, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Animation Release Date:November 20th, 2009 (wide) MPAA Rating:PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor. Distributors:Sony Pictures Releasing See Full Details
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Genre: Family
Runtime: 1 hr, 31 min
Studio: Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group
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