Rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor, 90 minutes
"Planet 51" is familiar but zany fun for the kids
My dad had an old saying for someone who was out of place: "They're like a brown shoe at a black tie convention," he'd say. The new animated movie "Planet 51" is for those brown shoes who feel a little out of place. From the writer of the "Shrek" films, "Planet 51" has serviceable CG animation, a familiar, predictable feel to it and is slow out of the gate, but there are enough energetic, witty moments near the end to keep the kids and maybe even their parents interested for 90 minutes.
The film follows a human astronaut, Captain Charles "Chuck" Baker (Dwayne Johnson) who lands on Planet 51 thinking he's the first to set foot on it. However, he discovers it's inhabited by little green people who live in a white picket-fenced world reminiscent of 1950s America. This freaks out the aliens, who think he's an alien. He quickly makes friends with teenagers Lem (Justin Long), Neera (Jessica Biel) and Skiff (Seann William Scott), who work to get him back to Earth safely before General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and Professor Kipple (John Cleese) get to him for alien experiments.
"Planet 51" is both comical and campy, predictably silly, a smidgen bland and an interesting premise but in no way matching the color of the Disney/Pixar films; kids should enjoy the merriment of seeing an alien that looks an awfully like a human. It attempts to channel those goofy-bad sci-fi alien flicks of the 1950's, not to mention giving nods to many other sci-fi movies: you'll notice fun references to films like "E.T.," "Alien" and "Star Wars" - not to mention many adult-style humor jokes - all of which will likely to go over the heads of the young set (one in particular will have kids asking what a suppository is). All familiar fun and unsurprising given the writer of "Planet 51" is Joe Stillman, who penned the first two "Shrek" films filled with the same style humor.
It helps that "Planet 51" has a decent voice cast to give more colorful to the film, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ("The Game Plan") delivers his lines with some comic fervor, as does Oldman (heard in the recent "A Christmas Carol"), who always makes for a good bad guy, while Johnson's "The Rundown" co-star Seann William Scott is good for a few funny lines as a nerdy comic book lover. However, the movie is nearly stolen by two canine-like characters who speak no lines, an alien dog that resembles a miniature version of the "Alien" creature, and Chuck's robotic companion Rover, who has an affinity for rocks and stomping on annoying, smaller creatures (a genuinely funny but mean-spirited moment).
The initial sections start out a little slow but it picks up mid-way through, with a memorable but unnecessary costume party dance to the song "Greased Lightning." You can predict exactly what'll happen as the green aliens help the human alien home, but the crisp animation has enough energy to keep the kiddoes engaged through a couple of bags of popcorn.
You've seen this before in other films (the shade of green used is so "Shrek"-like it's a little eerie), but an uplifting ending and a heartwarming message of helping others regardless of what they look like is good enough to make "Planet 51" make you feel accepted as a pair of brown shoes at a black tie convention.