22 November 2009 | RichardSRussell-1
Mild humor, nothing offensive, certainly nothing memorable
Planet 51 (1:31, PG) — SF, 2nd string, original
Let us enumerate the other movies which this one rips off (or, if you wish, to which it pays homage): 2001, Alien, The Day the Earth Stood Still, ET, The Right Stuff, Singin' in the Rain, Star Wars, Terminator, and WALLE. Even the inexplicable rain (rocks) is evocative of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
The overall theme — alien race in the foreground with humans as the bad guys — has likewise been done in Battle for Terra, The Tale of Despereaux, James Cameron's long-in- production Avatar, and sort of in District 9 and Delgo.
But you know what they say: If you copy from only 1 source, it's a ripoff; 2 is plagiarism; 3 is research; 4 or more is scholarship and will likely lead to tenure. Besides, the target audience is too young to have seen almost any of those other movies, and the writer (Joe Stillman) must have figured he needed to put something in for the parents.
The nostril-less green-skinned natives of Planet 51 don't call it that, of course. To them, it's just "the world", part of a universe that may be as much as 500 miles across, with thousands of stars. This pathetic naivete has not kept them from discovering anti-gravity, however, but it seems that they never figured out how to apply it to anything besides cars. Similarly, they may be aware of design forms other than the sphere, but it seems not to have occurred to them to use anything else. These oddities aside, their world looks a whole lot like Eisenhower-era America, complete with white picket fences, B&W TV, and alien-invasion movies.
Rocketing down into this peaceful scene comes a LEM (lunar excursion module), piloted by Capt. Charles T. "Chuck" Baker (Dwayne Johnson). It lands on the front lawn of one of the globular homes, and Baker strides out of it to plant the US flag on the sidewalk, apparently totally oblivious to his surroundings. The natives finally close their mouths and go into hysterics. Chuck flees.
The main viewpoint character is Lem (heh, get it?), a junior assistant curator at the local planetarium (voiced by Justin Long, who you just kept waiting to say "I'm a Mac."). He's got the hots for the GND, Neera (Jessica Biel), but has been too shy to make a move. She gets put off when it appears that he's anti-alien, but in fact he's just acting that way as he tries to provide Chuck with a hideout preparatory to getting his spaceship back.
The military under Gen. Grawl (Gary Oldman) shows up and behaves as it did in TDTESS. Among the grunts are stock Rosencrantz and Guildenstern figures, apparently to provide comic relief in what was ostensibly a comedy to begin with.
This all takes place in the town of Glipforg, and I spent way too much time during the show trying to figure out what it must be an anagram for. (Frogglip, which describes Neera?)
We know from Monsters Inc. that it's fiendishly difficult to animate hair and fur. If you recall Up, you may have been among the 2% of the audience that noticed Carl growing a very fine, sparse gray stubble over the course of his adventure. This is the sort of thing that nobody would have noticed if it had been absent, but the Pixar guys threw it in anyway, because they're Pixar. Ilion Animation, the Spanish firm behind Planet 51, not only didn't go that far, they decided to skip the hair thing altogether and went with banana dreads for the natives.
OK, so I've already rattled off lack of originality, inconsistent technology, gratuitous distractions, and corner-cutting animation. Why then do I rate this flik as high as "average"? Because the animation was good enuf for the quality of the film, the story was good- natured, there were several smiley moments (tho no out-loud laffs), and it's hard to get too down on any movie where a jostled iPod starts playing "Macarena" and the general exclaims "I've never seen such a heinous weapon.".