Directed by: Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, Marcos Martinez
Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Seann William Scott
Running Time: 1 hr 30 min
Release Date: November 20, 2009
PLOT: An American astronaut lands on an inhabited planet where the aliens resemble 1950’s Americans. Once he lands, he needs the help of Lem (Long) to hide from the alien army that wants to dissect his brain.
WHO’S IT FOR? Kids. Though there are a lot of jokes aimed at adults that will go right over most children’s heads.
EXPECTATIONS: Not high, the premise seemed kind of like it hinges on one joke, based on the trailer.
Dwayne Johnson as Captain Charles T. Baker: The Rock continues his assault on children’s movies with this role as the handsome, charismatic, and slightly dim astronaut, Charles Baker. Johnson’s voice is a great fit for this vain, but very manly character. In fact, the filmmakers seem to hope that you’ll be so impressed by Johnson’s manly cadences you won’t notice that his character is a little underdeveloped. It’s a kid’s film, I know, but Pixar has spoiled me, I now know that you can expect great things from a film marketed to kids. Johnson doesn’t do a bad job, but it’s not as good as his work as The Rock Obama on SNL.
Justin Long as Lem: Lem (presumably a reference to sci-fi author Stanislav Lem) works at a planetarium. He’s a slightly geeky guy voiced in a slightly geeky way by Long, playing a less assured version of his character in the Apple commercials. The film borrows heavily from Back to the Future (the opening shot of the town square resembles the one in BTTF almost exactly), and Lem is very similar to a George McFly. He doesn’t get beat up, but he’s a geek in love with a pretty, popular girl who seems out of his league. Long makes Lem really likeable, despite his character seeming like an amalgam of other lovelorn young men in film. He actually seems to grow as a person, er, alien.
Jessica Biel as Neera: Neera’s the lovely girl next door that Lem’s all hot and bothered over. It seems odd that she’s voiced by Biel because although she’s hot, she’s playing a cartoon so what she looks like doesn’t matter. Then again, Neera doesn’t really have much of a personality or direction. She befriends a hippie (I know, in the 1950s. A beatnik might have made sense but a hippie?) who becomes a rival of Lem, but he’s such a buffoon it never seems like something that’s in doubt. You know they’ll end up together, if you care. Biel does an adequate job at the role, but it’s not really much of a part to begin with.
Seann William Scott as Skiff: The requisite comic book nerd who knows all about aliens, Scott seems like a weird choice for the role. I’m used to seeing him as the resident douche, a la Stiffler in the American Pie films. But he does a great job as a dorky friend who develops a strong bond with Rover (a version of the Mars rover, only not on Mars… unless Planet 51 is Mars, that part’s never clear). Scott’s part isn’t much either, but I was excited to see him in a different role than ones he usually takes.
TALKING: The script’s fine, if a little pat. There are some funny little jokes, like “dogs” on Planet 51 resemble the alien from the Alien films and one is named “Ripley”. There are a few cute jokes like that for sci-fi fans sprinkled throughout that will go over the heads of the children in the audience but make the film more palatable for adults.
SIGHTS: You may notice that many of the crew members names are hispanic, that’s because Ilion, the company that made the film is a Spanish studio, this is their first feature length film. That said, they do a pretty good job with the animation. You won’t get breathtaking shots of follicles of hair or the sorts of things that make Pixar the best in the field, but it still looks good. It’s a promising start for this new studio.
SOUNDS: The soundtrack is made up of covers of ’50s songs. “Lollipop” starts off the film. Not terribly new or original. I would have preferred they got interesting new bands to do the covers, like with the Stubbs the Zombie Soundtrack, or wrote original songs.
BEST SCENE:I liked any scene with Ripley, the dog that resembled the alien from the Alien movies. I’m such a sucker for dogs in movies, even, no especially, if they resemble evil movie aliens.
ENDING: Pretty much exactly what I expected. Seriously, did you think a kids movie would end with death and destruction?
QUESTIONS: How did Captain Baker get from Earth to some far flung planet without aging? How long will it take him to get home? Why do both planets speak English? Are there other languages on Planet 51? How far must logic be ignored?
REWATCHABILITY: Do you have kids? If so, prepare to watch this one over and over. Otherwise, you’ll probably be happy with just the one screening.
Planet 51 didn’t look great in the previews so I wasn’t expecting much. Luckily I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the film which had a little more depth to it than the previews suggested. It’s not a great film, as an adult I had to ignore a lot of nagging questions. Captain Baker seems to be a present day human but we lack the technology to send a human to a far flung planet. If you know anything about space or logic or plotting, the huge holes can be kind of annoying. It’s best to just pretend it makes sense and maybe that you’ve had a partial lobotomy as well. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I enjoyed myself through most of the film, though I did start getting bored going into the final third. When the film gets serious, it drags, and judging by the kids around me, they felt it too. I wouldn’t recommend this to an adult unless you’re more into the art of animation than the art of plot, but if you have kids you could do far worse. A good film for a Saturday afternoon, just maybe turn your brain off first.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10