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Planet 51 (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/9/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/13/2010

It seems that every time I review an animated film, I write about how today's "family" films have content which is aimed at children and adults. Several years ago, Hollywood realized that adults were being dragged to the theater by their children to see "kids" movies. Therefore, if something could be added to the content which was aimed at adults, the parents would not only stay awake, but have a good time as well. Some movies take this a bit far and get too cheeky, but others, such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, find a way to strike a perfect balance. But, what if someone made the mistake of making a "family" film, which was aimed at kids, but it contained material which children didn't understand? That may be the case with Planet 51.

Planet 51 is set on an alien planet where the local inhabitants are green bi-peds. The story takes place in the town of Glipforg. Despite the fact that this is an alien planet, it has the look and feel of the United States in the late 1950s. The townspeople all get along well, the streets are safe and clean, and everyone loves alien invasion movies. A young male named Lem (voiced by Justin Long) has just gotten a job at the local observatory. He likes his neighbor, Neera (voiced by Jessica Biel), but he's scared to ask her out. The domestic bliss is interrupted when spaceship lands in Lem's backyard. From it emerges Astronaut Charles "Chuck" Baker (voiced by Dwanye Johnson), who immediately plants the American flag in the ground...and is then shocked to see that he's being observed by alien lifeforms. The military, led by General Grawl (voiced by Gary Oldman), swoop in to quarantine the "flying saucer", so Lem takes Chuck into hiding. As the two learn to trust one another, they learn that they didn't know as much about outer space or alien life as they'd thought.

As with many movies, I'm sure that Planet 51 looked great on paper. The movie takes the age-old alien invasion movie and turns it on its ear...several times. Here, the Earthling is the alien visiting another planet. OK, we've seen that before. The second part of the twist is that the alien planet is incredibly similar to Earth and the reactions of its inhabitants is very similar to the ways in which we have reacted to aliens (in our movies) for years.

But, once Planet 51 sets up that basic premise, it doesn't know what to do with it. Once Chuck and Lem team-up, the movie turns into a redundant cycle of chase scenes between the fugitives and the military. Every few minutes, Chuck and Lem will stop to meet some of Chuck's friends or to have a philosophical chat, and then they are on the run again. The movie tries to introduce a "cute" factor with Rover, Chuck's robot companion, who is befriended by Lem's pal Skiff (voiced by Seann William Scott), but like everything else in the movie, this is run into the ground.

As noted above, the problem with Planet 51 is that I don't think that a lot of kids are going to get most of the movie. For their ages, my children have a pretty good base of general and pop-culture knowledge (they're hooked on Jeopardy! of all things), but I found that I was having to pause the movie every few minutes to explain things to them. Eventually, they gave up and asked if we could finish the movie later...something which never happened, as they had no interest. They understood some of the 1950s setting and about astronauts, but not enough to get into the movie. They really don't know about 1950s alien invasion films. The "dogs" on this planet look like the xenomorphs from the Alien movies, and of course, they haven't seen any of those. There is a shot which is a nod to E.T., which they haven't seen. The list goes on and on. I feel that they are fairly good representatives of today's youth, so my assumption that many kids won't get this movie probably isn't far off. Oh, and they'd never heard of Area 51...so even the title was lost on them.

So, at whom is this aimed? Again, I liked the central idea and I got all of the references, but I thought that the movie was boring and aimless. There are some attempts at humor here, but compared to other modern animated films, it wasn't funny. And, as we've seen, my kids didn't like it. The animation, while not Pixar level is good, but that doesn't save the movie. Planet 51 is one of those movies which would have made a great short, but as a feature film, it falls out of orbit.

Planet 51 assumes that we've all seen The Right Stuff on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. I assume that this was a digital-to-digital transfer, as the image looks perfect. The colors look great and are eye-popping. The picture is never too dark or bright. The level of detail is good and we can see the work which went into creating textures in the animation. The image has good depth as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track offers clear dialogue and sound effects. In the past, family films would often shy away from killer sound, but not here. We are treated to very nice surround sound and great subwoofer effects during the action sequences. The stereo effects are well-done and show a nice amount of detail.

The Planet 51 Blu-ray Disc has a surprising amount of extras. We start with three EXTENDED SCENES, which run about 3 minutes. These add just a few moments of footage to scenes already in the film. "The World of Planet 51" (3 minutes) is an odd extra, as it simply gives us tours of the CG sets -- the camera roams the locations while we listen to the song from the end credits. "Life on Planet 51" (12 minutes) is kind of a "making of" featurette, but it's comprised mostly of comments from the voice cast and clips from the film. We do get to see the actors performing and there are some comments from the filmmakers. "Planetarium - The Voice Stars of Planet 51" (3 minutes) contains even more interviews with the cast. "Planet 51 Music Video Montage" (2 minutes) is simply clips from the film set to music. "Animation Progression Reels" (16 minutes) takes us inside six scenes and using a four-way split-screen, shows how they went from animatic to the finished product.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long