by M. Faust
Time was, an animated feature film was unusual and expensive enough that a major studio wouldn’t invest in one unless it was sure that it had a story and characters that were special enough to appeal to and delight a wide audience. That time has clearly passed, and there’s no better evidence than Planet 51, a movie that mixes perfectly adequate computer-generated animation with a script so leaden with sitcom clichés that could have been written any time in the past forty years. It takes place on an alien planet populated by green humanoids whose civilization mirrors life in America in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Actually, that’s not accurate: Their civilization mirrors the bland white-bread image of the 1950s that has somehow been taken as gospel ever since Happy Days. American astronaut Captain Charles “Chuck” Baker lands here and is surprised to find that the place is not, as expected, a rocky wilderness. (Chuck is voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but don’t be expecting NASA’s first black astronaut: The character is as blandly white as his name.) He had the particular bad luck to land when the populace is in a frenzy of paranoia sparked by the upcoming release of a new movie about invaders from outer space, and his only hope for escape lies with a open-minded teenager named Lem (Justin Long). The need to forge understanding across cultural lines is of course more important than ever, but Planet 51 makes that point in the most ham-fisted ways, with stale stereotypes dully played. The filmmakers all came from the European video game industry, which might explain the tone deaf blandness of the story but not the merely passable competence of the visuals. Planet 51 arrives in theaters during a holiday week in the obvious calculation that parents will take their kids to it, though if you can wait until next week you’d be much better off taking the family to Fantastic Mr. Fox, which opens on Thanksgiving.
Watch the trailer for Planet 51
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