Earlier this year, Monsters vs. Aliens attempted to reinvent the feel of 1950s-era science fiction as an animated film. The results were a mixed bag. It had moments of humor, a few clever moments, but in the end it was mediocre at best. Now we have another film seeking to bring a new look to one of science fiction's greatest decades in animated form. Planet 51 takes all that we know about '50s science fiction and sends it spiraling through the looking glass. The result is a fun movie that does not break any new barriers but it does provide a more consistently entertaining experience.
From the opening moments of Planet 51, the audience is bombarded with references to classic science fiction films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and War of the Worlds. There is even a running gag referencing a more recent creation, Alien. These references are folded in and kneaded into a dough comprised of 1950s sensibilities. These are then filtered through more modern lens, crafting a film that is part homage and part spoof.
Planet 51 opens promisingly enough with an alien teen couple parking for a little alone time only to be interrupted by an alien attack. This is immediately followed by an all-out military attack. The scenes are instantly recognizable as pseudo-recreations from other films. From here we meet our main character, Lem (voiced by Justin Long). He has recently gotten a part-time job and does not believe in aliens. Little does he know that his life and beliefs are about to be shaken to their core.
One idyllic afternoon the aliens' (well, I guess where they are they aren't aliens, are they?) activities are interrupted by a spaceship landing in one small town. Emerging from the ship is Captain Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson). His path crosses Lem's and together they must avoid the pursuing military and get Chuck back to his ship before time runs out.
Sure, there is a little more to it than that, but not much. Planet 51 is not a movie destined to have a great impact on the genre. It is also the sort of movie that can be picked apart by those who demand to have logic rule their movies. However, for those of us who still know how to enjoy a movie for its entertainment value, Planet 51 delivers. It is a movie whose sole purpose is to make you smile and let you leave the theater with a little childlike happiness.
It is a difficult task to balance entertainment targeted at the younger set with content that will entertain their parents. Planet 51 succeeds at achieving that balance. It is not exactly sophisticated like, say, recent Pixar offerings, but then again, what is? This movie takes those elements that made many of us fall in love with the genre in the first place and marries them with a lighthearted nature and slapstick comedy for the youngsters. It may not be the smartest movie around, but it will make the young ones laugh and the adults will enjoy seeing a twist on the movies they grew up on.
The movie was directed by Jorge Blanco with co-directors Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, all three of them making their directorial debuts. They do a fine job of keeping the movie moving and injecting a sense of energy and fun into the proceedings. They worked from a screenplay by Joe Stillman (Shrek, Shrek 2). The screenplay is not the tightest — some things seem a little silly at times and other times character actions do not appear logical. Still, it does the job. The fun factor helps one gloss over some of the not-so-hot moments.
The voice cast does decent work. None of it stands out as spectacular, but they all do their roles well. Joining Justin Long and Dwayne Johnson are the likes of Jessica Biel, Seann William Scott, Gary Oldman, and John Cleese. My only question here is where is Patrick Warburton? He would seem like a must for this project. Oh well, maybe the sequel.
Bottom line. High art? No. But who cares? They set their sights on '50s-inspired science fiction and succeeded in their goal. It is briskly paced and filled with enough references to make the old fans smile and enough goofiness to make the youngsters laugh. Sit back and enjoy.