VOCAL WORK BY
Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, John Cleese
Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, Marcos Martinez
This could simply be a case of bad timing.
Having just viewed Wes Anderson's masterful animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which may very well give Pixar a run for their money come awards season, "Planet 51" feels, well, inadequate.
"Planet 51" isn't a horrible film, but it is a case of trying too hard to please the adults while entertaining the kids and, in the end, there are extended periods in the film when neither one is happening.
In the film, American astronaut Captain Charles Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on Planet 51, which is believed to be just another desolate land upon which the United States will stake its claim and plant its flag.
As it turns out, Planet 51 is inhabited by a rather jolly assortment of friendly green creatures not too far removed from the world of Dr. Seuss. In this land, Captain Baker is the alien and he must avoid capture if he hopes to return to his spaceship and planet Earth. He enlists the help of Lem (Justin Long), a socially awkward young alien trying to work up the nerve to ask out Neera (Jessica Biel). However, General Grawl (Gary Oldman) is hot on his trail along with a rather misguided academic type, Professor Kipple (John Cleese).
The delight of "Planet 51" is the vibrant, inspired animation design of the planet itself which is made up to look like your stereotypical 1950's American smalltown complete with a throwback soundtrack that surely qualifies as the best animated feature film soundtrack in 2009 with a literal potpourri of 50's and 60's tunes to delight.
Along with the throwback animation design, "Planet 51" features alien hysteria in reversal. In this case, it is a human, or humaniac, who is the alien and it is those in charge of Planet 51 who fuel the community's fear of this strange and ghastly human being.
While the animation itself is beautiful to behold, "Planet 51" itself never quite gets off the ground. The script, by Joe Stillman, seems to be trying too hard to win over adults with its ultra cool retro references while also trying to captivate the kiddies. Unfortunately, much like "Terra" earlier this year, "Planet 51" tries so hard to cater to both audiences that much of the film feels too heady and strangely devoid of energy.
This is not to say that "Planet 51" doesn't have its moments, occasionally quite delightful.
The highlight of "Planet 51" may very well be the relationship between Skiff (Seann William Scott), Lem's best friend, and Rover, a non-verbal probing robot that can best be described as puppy meets Wall-E. As Rover becomes Skiff's constant companion, the affection between the two is rather moving and Scott's vocals parallel those of a young boy who has discovered a true best friend.
The same is true for the relationship between Lem and Neera, a relationship grounded upon that stereotypical 50's sweetness and innocence of first flirtation reminiscent of scenes from "Back to the Future." Yet, too often, "Planet 51" dissolves into a rather cliche'd animated feature that resembles any number of other animated features with cute characters, chase scenes, a main character waxing eloquent and, of course, everything working out in the end.
During a year in which both "Up" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" have successfully blended animation with stellar stories along with relevance to both adults and children, it's particularly disheartening to see a film such as "Planet 51" feature such wondrous animation only to be held back by a bland, rather safe storyline and dry dialogue that will likely have children fidgeting restlessly and adults checking watches long before the closing credits start to roll.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic