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.
What did you think of this review?