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  • TBC
  • Animation, Family
  • 2009
  • 90 mins

Planet 51

Planet 51

Synopsis

A loving pastiche of 1950s sci-fi cinema - with a twist. Animated adventure featuring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman and John Cleese

About

As the world emerges from the aggressively insular Bush era to an America with a foreign policy that is more respectfully outward-looking, cinema is beginning again to explore the human in the other and the monster in ourselves.

In their different ways, both James Cameron's Avatar and Aristomenis Tsirbas' Terra depict humankind as alien invaders - and while Jorge Blanco's animated feature Planet 51 does something similar, it has the distinct advantage (for its intended family audiences) of a light touch, even if it is never quite as funny (or indeed as exciting) as Monsters Vs Aliens, despite sharing that film's parodic focus on the paranoid SF of 1950s cinema.

Surrounded by white picket fences and 'classic' cars, and in love with the girl next door, teenage Lem (voiced by Justin Long) is a 1950s kinda guy in a 1950s kinda world - or at least the sort of idealised version of the decade that exists in the movies. Sure enough, Planet 51 begins with a movie-within-a-movie, in which nasty alien invaders with flying saucers and deadly ray-guns wreak havoc upon a small-town populace - except that the aggressors in 'Humaniacs II' are brain-snatching, organ-harvesting humans. Lem, you see, and his fellow citizens are green-skinned, four-fingered extra-terrestrials whose comfortable, small-minded naïveté is matched only by their terror of the great unknown beyond their planet (in a universe that they believe to be only 500 miles long).

So when astronaut Captain Charles 'Chuck' Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on what he imagines to be the barren, uninhabited Planet 51 and finds himself in the middle of a barbecue on a suburban lawn, he triggers in the locals both panic and a swift military backlash. Pursued by an invasion-obsessed general (Gary Oldman) and a lobotomy-loving professor (John Cleese), and with a 72-hour countdown before his orbiting command module will leave him behind forever, Chuck turns to Lem and friends to help this human E.T. go home.

Peppered with jokey allusions to other SF films, from The Day The Earth Stood Still to Alien, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Wars, and even referencing non-SF flicks like Singin' In The Rain and Grease, Planet 51 lets adults play its Easter egg-filled game of spot-the-homage, while diverting the kids with all the usual rites of passage, father-figure bonding, bright colours and fart jokes. There are certainly moments of hilarity here, rooted in the film's inverted notions of alienation, and its fondly nostalgic lampoon of the simple folksiness (and simple anxieties) to be found in post-WWII (or indeed post-9/11) America, but just like the alien pooch (named - get it? - Ripley) whose tongue-wagging friendliness melts hearts no less than his acid urine melts lampposts, there is more bark than bite to the satire on offer in Joe (Shrek) Stillman's screenplay.

Peel away the film's beautiful and inventive visual aesthetic (a genuine marvel of quirkily defamiliarised 1950s icons and architecture), and underneath you will find only the most serviceable characterisation, and a confusing lack of focus on anything but the set-up for the next gag. Some of the jokes will certainly get you chuckling, but this film needs just a little more substance to help it take off.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Gary Oldman, Jessica Biel, Seann William Scott, Mathew Horne, Freddie Benedict, Justin Long, John Cleese, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Alan Marriott, James Corden
  • Director: Jorge Blanco, Marcos Martinez, Javier Abad
  • Writer: Joe Stillman
  • Producer: Ignacio Pérez Dolset, Guy Collins
  • Composer: James Seymour Brett

In a nutshell

Like the alien town of Glipforg at its core, Planet 51 offers attractions that are just a little too familiar to take the viewer out of this world.

by Anton Bitel

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