Planet 51

Posted on March 9, 2010 at 7:17 am

The mood is romantic. The couple is parked in a secluded spot overlooking their charming home town. They lean in for a kiss. And then an alien rocket ship lands. I hate it when that happens.

Okay, no I don’t. I enjoy it. That’s a classic cheesy 1950’s alien invasion movie set-up and “Planet 51” knows that very well. The scene we have just watched is from a movie called “Humanoids” and it is happily being enjoyed by a theater filled with rapt, popcorn-chomping, little green creatures with antennae. Just like the couple in the car on screen. Dorothy, we’re not just not in Kansas anymore; we’re not even on planet Earth.

It feels like an idealized, if retro suburban Earth setting, though. The houses have white picket fences and the soundtrack has standards from the 1950’s. You could imagine Dick and Jane, Ozzie and Harriet, or Archie and Veronica playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, if they were green and had four fingers.

In this idyllic setting we have Lem (voice of Justin Long), very happy because he just got a job in the planetarium and is beginning to think Neera, the pretty girl next door (voice of Jessica Biel), kind of likes him. And there’s Lem’s friend Skiff (voice of Seann William Scott), who wears braces and works at the comic book store. And then things get complicated when an alien arrives.

That would be one of us.

This is “E.T.” in reverse. The American astronaut is the alien invader. His name is Chuck (voice of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). While many of the people on the planet (I know, they’re not human, but I’m going to call them people) are terrified and determined to kill, capture, or dissect Chuck, Lem, Neera, and Skiff are willing to try to get to know him.

This theme is very similar to the more serious Battle for Terra 3D earlier this year. But it is sillier and sweeter, with a cute robotic sidekick somewhere between R2D2 and a puppy. It is also a little bland. It is a shame that a movie tweaking retro cliches falls into the white bread conventions itself, especially from a Madrid-based production company. That they believe Americans will only buy tickets to movies about white guys shows that the message of the movie about how it is all right to be different has not really been learned.

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10 Replies to “Planet 51”

  1. With so many quality animated films being released, “Planet 51” struck me as one of, if not THE, laziest of the year. It tried to be clever, but wasn’t. The characters and their relationships, for me, were never charming. The level of inappropriate material also was just so deflating. There is no place in a kids’ animated film for unfunny humor involving anal probes, double-entendres for sexual organs, and not one but two instances of gay panic. Ugh.

  2. I thought Rover more resembled the robots in Wall-E.
    My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this picture. I’m not sure why a picture must first get a PC stamp of approval above anything else. Regardless of whether all its jokes were PC or not, Planet 51 was lively and fun. As a sci-fi movie junkie, I was amused by the allusions to more famous science fiction epics. And both my wife and I were amazed by the animated astronaut’s very human-like movements.
    The multi-plex where we saw this picture was packed to the balcony with young females waiting to see New Moon. Are these the same fan-girls who thronged to see High School Musical a few years ago? I don’t get it.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Dustin, I thought the movie was cute, and far better than some of the animated films we have seen lately, like the similarly themed “Battle for Terra.” I didn’t care much for the crude humor, but thought they were schoolyard gender and body part jokes, not virulent. Big Dave, your reaction was much like mine. I was especially impressed with the movements in the dance sequence. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. This movie looks terrible. First of all, astronauts are generally well educated, and yet Dwayne Johnson’s character doesn’t even know the definition of “alien”. He IS the alien, seeing as he’s not native to their planet.
    Second, the chances of a civilization that far away from us (who have not been surveying us) that speaks english are zero to none.
    Third, UFO and Flying Saucer are not interchangeable terms. It pretty much has to be saucer shaped in order to be a flying saucer, and what he travels in is not saucer shaped.

  5. All good points, Jason, but this movie is not making any attempt at believability. If it was, the odds of the planet’s atmosphere and gravity and temperature being capable of sustaining human life would be as small as the odds of their speaking English and living like the US in the 1950’s. It’s fantasy, not sci-fi. Thanks for writing!

  6. Hi, I have to say I just came back from watching the movie with my daughters and I thought it was a terrible movie. Especially the inappropiate antenna joke. My husband and I value very much your reviews. It’s very difficult now a days to select a movie for the family. Before going to see this movie, my husband checked your review. The only thing that concerned us was your comment of “references to body parts”. I honestly thought you meant references to the rear end of a person. Do you think it would possible in the future to be specific regarding which body parts? Thank You

  7. Thanks, Letin, and I am sorry the movie was a disappointment to you. You can assume that when I refer to crude humor and references to body parts it means private parts. I appreciate your comment, which will be very helpful to parents making a decision about whether this film is right for their families, and wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  8. if you want to get a Christian view perspective on movies go to they really do a great job! This movie we’ve decided against letting our children view(3-12 years).Yes, it has funny parts, but morally it’s just not right. I’d be sending a message to my children that it’s ok to speak in that manner if I allowed them to watch it. Disney just like the rest of the Hollywood producers should realize what they are putting out there.

  9. Thank you, BondMom, and pluggedin does a good job. Appreciate your thoughts on this, though some parents will consider that the lessons of tolerance and humility are worthwhile and the naughty behavior can be seen as a lesson rather than an example. (Note that it is not a Disney film. It is an independent film distributed by TriStar.)

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