Animated sci-fi tale set on "Planet 51," whose inhabitants live in fear of an alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Capt. Charles "Chuck" Baker arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, the astronaut has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and return home. (from MovieWeb.com)
For a good portion of 2009, moviegoers have been seeing teasers and trailers for a unique animated experience called Planet 51. The most popular teaser shows a fully-suited United States astronaut as he lands on a foreign planet and plants an American flag into the ground. When he looks around him, he sees that the entire alien planet is functioning like a human one, except that the inhabitants are green alien creatures. Most of the promos for the film don't give too many details away, which leaves the actual viewing of Planet 51 to be mostly a surprise. The end result is an entertaining feature film for nearly all ages.
What's really fun about Planet 51, which I didn't know until I was actually in the theater watching the movie play out, is that the film is shot entirely from the perspective of the alien planet... which resides in a sort of 1950's era. A present-day American astronaut then "invades" their planet and what unfolds is sort of a mix of The Day The Earth Stood Still and War Of The Worlds, only backwards. The young aliens of the planet are mostly obsessed with visitors from another planet - obviously human-like aliens that might come and invade their planet. The film's central alien is a teenage boy named Lem, voiced by Justin Long (Galaxy Quest, Die Hard 4, those Mac Vs. PC commercials), who feels like everything is starting to go right in life... that is, until the "alien" shows up. All mayhem indeed breaks loose when U.S. astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) arrives. And he's quite the pompous and arrogant goof you might not entirely expect him to be. To assist Chuck is a miniature land rover that acts like a cross between a pet dog and WALL-E, who steals many of the scenes its in, despite frequently bringing to mind the Pixar film that features said titular robot.
The idea alone of turning Planet 51 itself into a human-like planet sounds like fun, but setting it in our 1950's era really opens things up for a whole mess of opportunities and even pop culture references to come into play. Chuck is not only caught off guard by such an alien race, but the fact that they're all stuck in the 50's. From the classic style monster movies the aliens love to watch, to the town square (which seems to bear an uncannily inspired by Back To The Future) to the very idea of alien conspiracies and Area 51 paranoia of the 50's. And when Chuck is thrust into the mix, he can't help but make random and direct references to The Terminator or even Star Wars. There are all kinds of fun and clever little nods and references sprinkled throughout Planet 51, which is liable to entertain adults just as much as the younger audience it targets. But there's an element to the approach of the film that, because it relies so heavily on reminding us of familiar alien and monster lore that Planet 51 feels at times more like it's one big spoof or homage than its own standalone story. And it isn't really the downfall of the film - since I do often enjoy cleverly placed cultural references - but there are moments where the film just feels a bit flat or underdone.
And that feeling is entirely not due to its visual quality. Although the film is done by first-time director Jorge Blanco and two co-directors, the animation itself is breathtaking. Planet 51 looks beautiful from start to finish. The only time things seemed slightly off is when Chuck - the human - would speak. Sometimes his words more clearly didn't naturally match his lips, but overall, from the backgrounds to the fluid motion of the characters and surroundings, Planet 51's animation is first-rate. It's certainly an impressive production.
The content of Planet 51 may be its most questionable aspect. More than just a couple times does the content venture into the suggestive arena, offering some jokes that are a bit off-color at best. From the opening scene where two teens are "parking" at a lookout point and share a kiss, to a carefully timed use of the phrase "What the... duck?!" and even a couple gags that involve butt plugs and suppositories, Planet 51 skates on thin ice when it comes to rude and crude humor. The majority of the most offensive gags are likely go over the kids' heads, but still it felt strange to see some of the jokes that worked their way into the film. It gave it all a slightly more adult feel - especially partnered with older cultural references that children just wouldn't understand - and it's a good chance that such a feel is what dampened its quality a bit.
In the end, Planet 51 is a good animated family film, but not without its faults. Those looking for the random humor of Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs or the family charm of a Pixar film, will be disappointed that Planet 51 tries to be many different films in one and ultimately looses a bit of its own personality in the process. It's still a worthwhile and fun piece of entertainment that encourages its audience (once again) to embrace those around you that are different than you... just don't expect it to be anything more.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/24/09)
I remember sitting in the theater in November thinking this film would look amazing in Blu-Ray. Sure enough, it does and because of the intense detail in this film's animation, it's especially fun to watch at home.
The Blu-Ray isn't exactly loaded with special features, but what they do have is done well. The deleted/extended scenes (2:50) are all brief moments cut from when Lem hides Chuck in his house. While all of it is pretty minor, it's nice to at least see these bits in completely finished form. Most of the time, deleted scenes from animated films end up being just animated hand-drawn rough storyboards. Here, they're finished in great detail. Because these bits are so brief, it would have been nice to have the option to watch them within the finished film. There's also the Target 51 Game, which utilizes your player's remote for directing your spaceship out of harm's way. There are several gameplay modes once you start, the easiest being shooting alien ships out of your way, the hardest being a small pod needing to avoid and fire upon debri and alien ships coming at you. It's not especially exciting, but kids might enjoy it.
The World of Planet 51 (2:54) - is merely a panning of the different backdrops and scenery from the film. It feels a bit thrown together / lifeless since there's no narrative, but it does give fans of the film a chance to look a little closer at what's going on behind the action: the detailed alien designs of the houses, the clever play on the 1951 stylizing, etc.
Life On Planet 51 (12:04) - This is the first real featurette. It opens with part of the trailer for the film, and then features Dwayne Johnson, the voice of Chuck, explaining the story. From there, the real meat of the featurette showcases the voice talent in the film, and gives a look at each central character and their performers. We then get a fun look into the animation process, storyboarding, and learn that this project has been seven years in the making!
Planetarium - The Voice Stars of Planet 51 (3:18) - This little featurette features a little more of Justin Long, Jessica Biel, and Dwayne talking about their individual characters, interwoven with actual footage from the movie. Oddly enough, some of the footage and interviews repeat slightly, but it's still a fun bonus. It probably could have been made part of the "Life On..." featurette or expanded on more, but is still a nice little addition.
Planet 51 Music Video Montage (2:11) - This is kind of a pointless featurette, utilizing clips from the movie set to song clips.
Animation Progression Reels (15:53) - The final major bonus feature is a pretty cool look at the progression of animation for several scenes -- from the drawn storyboards to two levels of groundwork animation, to the final film animation.... four full panels playing simultaneously on the sceen. Animation buffs will especially find this fascinating. It's also really neat to see how the initial idea changed over time and the variations in details in the background, foreground, and characters.
All in all, Planet 51 makes a great Blu-Ray package. For Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs, Sony only allowed the digital download of the movie available for people with PS3 systems. Thankfully, the Planet 51 DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy package fixes this by allowing it for iTunes as well as Windows Media Player. You can easily port this sucker to your iPod if you want to! And if you don't have a blu-ray player just yet, a DVD combo like this one is a smart buy as you look to the future. Your family will be happy you have both versions if you ever make the hyperjump to HD.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/8/10)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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