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Saturday
Nov212009

Planet 51

The other day, I was discussing the world of animation with a colleague of mine. I expressed my admiration for the art form, attempting to go into why I think it can be so powerful when he dropped a bomb on me. He said he thought animation was "only for kids." I've heard it a thousand times, so I've come to expect it, but some people's ignorance amazes me. Let me set the record straight. Animation is not just for children.

In fact, some animated movies aren't for kids at all, like 9, for example. Just because a kid is able to watch it doesn't necessarily mean it is theirs. Look at this year's Up or Ponyo. The little ones will adore those films, but so will adults. The kids will love the bright colors and playful humor, but the older ones in the crowd will admire their artistry and their themes and their emotional meaning. Most computer animated movies, though appropriate for children, are not "kids movies." With that said, Planet 51 is an exception. This one is solely for children eight and under because, frankly, I don't see anybody above that age getting much out of it.

Planet 51 is a film that thinks it's being clever by flipping the standard "aliens invade us" story into "we are the invading aliens," despite that idea being done a number of times already (including earlier this year with Battle for Terra). In the movie, an astronaut named Charles T. Baker (voiced by Dwayne "Can You Smell What the Rock is Cookin'?" Johnson) lands on an alien planet billions of miles from Earth, only that planet is inhabited by a population not unlike our own. They eat, they drink, they sleep, they go to work and they even watch movies, only these guys are green. Totally different. Anyway, Baker freaks out after seeing the citizens while the military, also in a state of panic, goes on the hunt for him. He ends up taking refuge with Lem (voiced by Justin "I Give Very Little Effort When Voice Acting" Long) who tries to help him get back to his spaceship. If he doesn't get there within a certain timeframe, it heads back to Earth and Baker will be stuck on the planet forever.

This film is brought to us by Ilion Animation Studios. If you can name me one other film by this company, I'll fork over every penny in my bank account (don't get too giddy, it's not much). You can't do it, can you? I couldn't either, that is until I did a little research and found out that this is their very first movie. It shows. Based on this initial outing, I wouldn't expect them to make it to their third.

Like I said, this is a film directed squarely at the kids in the audience. Unlike most modern animated movies that try to entertain the whole family equally, this one metaphorically flips off the adults and mockingly thanks them for dishing out their hard earned money so their children could have an hour and a half of mild amusement that will be forgotten immediately upon exiting the theater. As it is aimed at children, you can expect a myriad of slapstick, excretory jokes and pretty much just dumb kid humor all around.

When it does attempt to please the adults, it usually fails and does nothing more than make references to older movies like E.T., The Terminator, Singin' in the Rain and more, but the only ones that work are the ones that reference Ridley Scott's Alien. On this planet, the alien creatures from that classic film are pets and carry the same attributes, like their insides being composed of acid. However, they don't bleed out the acid like in they do in Alien. It comes out in a decidedly different way, of which I'll leave to your imagination. The subtle nametag above the dog (alien?) house that says "Ripley," a reference to the main character in Alien, was also a nice touch.

Of course, I hated this movie, so that nice touch did very little to keep me invested in it. If you couldn't tell by my smarmy quotation insert in Long's name, I hated his voice performance here. Although Johnson shows some enthusiasm with his character, Long is bland and boring, hitting a range of emotions from "anxious" to "nervous." And yes, I'm aware those are synonyms.

In a year where most animated movies have been pretty good (Up, Ponyo, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), Planet 51 deserves no recognition. It can't even hit mediocrity the way Astro Boy did. It merely sits there and shows no respect for the art of filmmaking. I went out of my way to see this movie. You should go out of yours to avoid it.

Planet 51 receives 0.5/5

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