Sony // 2009 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 9th, 2010
Something strange is coming to their planet...us!
"The times, they are a-different."
We open on a cozy little town filled with white picket fences, drive-in movie theatres, malt shops, and clean-cut kids. It all looks very much like a stereotypical portrait of the 1950s, with one very noteworthy exception: the town is not occupied by human beings, but rather by little green humanoid-type creatures: "Aliens," if you prefer. One day, a human astronaut named Captain Charles T. Baker (Dwayne Johnson, Be Cool) lands on this strange planet, assuming that it is little more than a barren rock. Upon discovering that there are other life forms upon this planet, Charles becomes terrified. The residents of the planet are even more terrified, as many people assume that the astronaut has come to eat their brains. As panic ensues on all sides, a kid named Lem (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard) attempts to find a way to resolve the situation in as peaceful a manner as possible.
It's generally a bad sign when a film's plot fails to be as intriguing as its premise, particularly when the premise is mostly intriguing due to its general lack of logic. Planet 51 was a film that kept my brain pretty busy for much of its running time, but most of my thoughts had little to do with the story or the characters. I was too wrapped up in attempting to figure out how on Earth a world like the one featured in Planet 51 could possibly exist. The simple answer is, "It's couldn't, you dummy. This is a cartoon for kids; acknowledge that and just let it go." Or is it that simple? Even fantasy worlds tend not to work if they aren't adhering to some sort of basic ground rules.
Let's just forget about the fact that there is a planet containing oxygen and humanoid life forms well within reach of Earth (which is an impossibility). Let's also forget about the fact that the alien culture is almost a mirror image of Leave It to Beaver (which is an extreme improbability, unless the aliens were modeling their society after a television program a la the aliens in Galaxy Quest or Explorers, but then that would destroy the commonly-held belief that all humans are brain-eating monsters). Let's just suspend our disbelief and go with that basic idea. Okay. I can do this.
But what about those pets of theirs? Many people on Planet 51 keep little creatures that are very clearly modeled after the aliens from Alien. When these creatures urinate, they release an acid that instantly eats through pretty much any substance. A woman allows her pet to pee on a lamp post, the base of the lamp post melts and the post crashes to the ground. No one in the busy town seems to be bothered by this, despite the fact that the rest of the town looks more or less pristine and it doesn't seem that lamp posts are any easier to replace there than they are here. They keep these pets on chains. What if a pet pees on their chain? I was wondering that same thing when one of the creatures did precisely that and started chasing the mailman. It's a wonder there are any mailmen left.
What about the scene where one little green guy gives another little green guy a cork? "You stick it in there?" the guy says, pointing at his rear end. "It's to protect you from probes." Ho, ho. But wait. It doesn't appear that the characters have any orifices in which to insert the cork. We know this because the guys don't wear any pants and have those generic cartoon bodies without any specific anatomical, um, additions. Even so, for some reason all of the women wear skirts or long dresses. Maybe they actually have something to hide under there, but I suspect not.
Or how about the weather? When it rains on Planet 51, water does not fall from the sky. Instead, rocks fall from the sky. Yes, you heard me, rocks. These aliens don't appear to be any stronger or tougher than the average human. Technically, rocks falling from the sky should do huge damage and crush people left and right. But no, it seems that opening up an umbrella is enough to prevent a rock falling from thousands of feet above from smashing one's brains. "It's raining rocks and dogs," one character says. Right, because when it's raining here we're so fond of saying, "It's raining water and dogs."
I realize that I'm being a bit of an obnoxious twit about this, but talking about these peculiarities is so much more interesting than talking about the movie, which is banal and conventional. An astronaut lands on the planet, boring modern artists sing memorable '50s songs on the soundtrack, there's some chaos and confusion caused by every character being dumb, there's a romantic subplot between a couple of the aliens, some reheated comic relief characters turn up to act silly, a stereotypical military general attempts to kill (that's KILL KILL KILL!) the human while a stereotypical hippie protests the violence, everything ends with a half-dozen happily ever afters, there are obligatory references to various iconic sci-fi flicks (2001: A Space Odyssey, E.T., The Day the Earth Stood Still), blah blah blah-diddly blah.
The animation is competent but unremarkable, with uninteresting character designs that have a way of making us feel like we've seen it all before but done with more imagination then (the little robot in particular seems like a bastardized version of Wall-E). The voice work is professional but unremarkable, with fine actors like Gary Oldman (Leon: The Professional) and John Cleese (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) saddled with boring lines. Dwayne Johnson's macho posing is intermittently amusing, as is Justin Long's flustered protagonist, but there's no vocal work really worth writing home about.
The Blu-ray transfer is just dandy, as most every hi-def transfer is for modern animated films. If the movie seems less visually involving than something like Wall-E or Ponyo, it has everything to do with the artistry of the film itself and little to do with the transfer. The image is bright, warm and detailed, and you can see pretty much everything that is there to be seen (including the constant references to '50s sci-fi flicks littered throughout nearly every scene). Audio is just fine, with John Debney's cheerful but ultra-derivative score (borrowing liberally from Danny Elfman's Beetlejuice and several of Jerry Goldsmith's efforts for Joe Dante) coming through with clarity.
Supplements on the disc tend to be on the lightweight side. "Life on Planet 51" (12 minutes) is the usual EPK-style making-of featurette, while "Planetarium: The Voice Stars of Planet 51" (3 minutes) is a quick introduction to the voice actors involved. "The World of Planet 51" (3 minutes) is a brief look at the locations of the film, and "Planet 51 Music Video Montage" (2 minutes) is a clip reel set to a Blink-182 song. You also get 15 minutes of progression reels, some extended scenes, an interactive game called "Target 51" and a DVD Copy/Digital Copy.
Kids under the age of 10 will probably enjoy it, though more conservative parents may not appreciate the handful of scatological references and risque jokes to be found in this PG-rated flick.
If other planets are as dull as Planet 51, I'd rather stay home and watch a movie. You know, something other than Planet 51. The Blu-ray release is adequate, but offers little incentive in terms of supplements.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Extended Scenes
* Progression Reels
* Interactive Game
* Music Video
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy