a critiQal film review Planet 51 (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: American astronaut Capt. Charles "Chuck" Baker (Johnson) lands on Planet 51, thinking he's the first person to step foot on the planet. Much to his surprise, he discovers that the planet is already inhabited by little green people who are happily living in a white picket fence world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America, and whose only fear is that it will be overrun by alien invaders...like Chuck!

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Last year, an animated film hit theaters called Planet 51. While the trailer had us cracking up over a scene where the rather silly-looking human astronaut jumps dramatically across a lawn to plant the American flag while green aliens watch him over the lid of their barbecue grill in horror, we never actually got around to seeing this one in theaters.

Now that’s it available via our NetFlix® instant queue, however, we decided now was the perfect time to check out Planet 51. Would the film have more hilarious comedy in store for us, or had we already seen the best parts in the trailer?

The Rock…err…Dwayne Johnson, has done a good job of popping up in the most unexpected of places. While his stint in Disney kids films like Race to Witch Mountain (2009) and Tooth Fairy (2010) is getting old, having him voice a character in a film – especially the ridiculous persona of Chuck Baker in Planet 51, is a refreshing change of pace. Despite being a newcomer to the whole voice actor role, Dwayne does a great job voicing the character, and viewers should find themselves quickly entertained by the “alien” visitor Chuck.

The rest of the cast isn’t quite as recognizable in their character representations (with the exception of John Cleese as a demented professor), but that works well for the film. The voices are familiar enough the viewer feels at ease with them, but not as distinctly recognizable as usual, and the viewer won’t find themselves trying to reconcile these strange green faces to the character actors voicing them. Stepping back from the film once it’s finished, however, the viewers will easily be able to place the voice, and will be a bit surprised they hadn’t noticed who was portraying the characters earlier – especially since some of these voices, including Gary Oldman and Seann William Scott, are usually so recognizable.

While a lot of that is the actor’s ability to generate a believable character – no matter what they may look like on-screen – the intriguing plot and solid animation also help smooth the way. Having humans as the alien invaders on a peaceful alien planet is a refreshing twist on the whole “visitor from another planet” idea, and viewers will instantly find themselves relating to both sides of the story.

From the first moment this strange new world is visible on-screen – complete with it’s 1950’s era style, normally evil alien types (those with the two heads made so popular by Aliens (1986)) turned into playful pets similar to dogs, and it’s recurring saucer-shape theme, viewers will find themselves instantly attracted to this comical tongue-in-cheek spoof of the typical alien film. When some of the characters on this alien world turn out to be solidly engaging as well, viewers won’t worry about if the voices sound like someone they’ve heard before – they’ll be too busy watching the film to see what will pop up next.

As with a lot of kid films, Chuck’s adventures on this strange planet are great fun to watch from beginning through a solid middle – but the ending leaves a bit to be desired, becoming so family-friendly as to be ridiculous. Thankfully, those sickly-sweet family moments are brief and so don’t detract too much from the rest of the film, so viewers will still be able to walk away from the movie with fond memories.

The animation is top-notch as well, and viewers will never find themselves distracted by a glitch or anything that doesn’t fit in with the feel of the rest of the film. Instead, viewers slowly notice that alien movies aren’t the only films Planet 51 spoofs on. Far from it, as classic scenes from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and more abound – including a comical solo dance sequence by robot Rover from the classic Gene Kelly film Singin’ in the Rain and even a reference to Pixar’s recent hit, WALL-E (2008).

Too many times, animated films start out strong and end weak. With it’s spoof of alien invasion films carrying it through, Planet 51 delivers solid voice performances and hilarity throughout, and manages to save most of that when the film does it’s invariable cheesy – but thankfully short – sickly-sweet, family-friendly, wrap-up.

A must for both alien invasion movie fans and haters alike, both should get a kick out of Planet 51 and it’s refreshing new take on the idea. And, even the most stoic of viewers will get a chuckle as Dwayne Johnson’s Chuck performs his spoof of the moon landing while humming a dramatic music accompaniment – and that’s just a kicking off point for Planet 51.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, go ahead and treat yourself to a rental. It’s a fun, family-friendly film that adults may like even more than their kids do.

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