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July 2010

Planet 51

voice cast: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman, John Cleese, and Sean William Scott

director: Jorge Blanco

86 minutes (U) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by James A. Stewart

Planet 51

The growth of CGI dominated animation movies in the last 15-20 years has been astounding; they hit the cinemas with amazing alacrity and no primary school kid's DVD collection is complete without Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo, Ice Age, Monsters Inc and the various follow-ups and spin-offs of each. Therefore, like any vibrant market, there can sometimes be a diluting of the quality as any old start-up company seek to take advantage of the rewards for releasing average fare. Thankfully, Planet 51 doesn't fall into this category.

Planet 51 is the designation of what Earth scientists think is an uninhabited, but class C, planet. Earth sends the astronaut automaton that is Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) to explore the rock. Of course, it would just happen that the planet is inhabited and is so by a group of 'aliens' who fear extraterrestrial invasion more than anything else, thanks to the propaganda of the government's scientists on their humble rock. Indeed, the locals only refer to their planet as 'the world' and teach that the universe could be as much as 500 miles long with literally thousands of stars. So, when Chuck lands in someone's garden, things get a bit tasty.

Ilion Animation, a Spanish company, has produced a slick, visually exciting and enjoyable experience in Planet 51 without going so far as to be original. The production values are excellent and this is almost the equal of Pixar's outputs, and Planet 51 is strewn with recognisable influences from everything from Alien to Wall-E via 2001: A Space Odyssey. The setting is effectively 1950s' America with the only difference being the inhabitants are little green men with big faces and funny hair. The whole manicured lawn, VW vans (yes, VW), peace loving hippies and alien invasion movies could have been lifted from any time between 1955 and 1965 in the USA.

As with all these movies, the mix between adult and children's humour is manifest throughout and well balanced, albeit it feels like there has been some masturbatory referencing done by the writers who have loads of little in-jokes running all through the movie, but I did find some of them funny. The cast is well chosen too, and as you would expect from a European production, there is a cap doffing respect to Hollywood with Johnson, and Jessica Biel, but also some fine English choices in John Cleese, Gary Oldman and the Gavin And Stacey pairing of Mathew Horne and James Corden. This is probably the only decent thing the latter two have been involved in since the end of the hilarious BBC sitcom they starred in.

The usual plotlines for U cert. animation movies are apparent in Planet 51: boy and girl with stand-offish relationship when all they really want to do is kiss; mad professor who's a bad guy; hero who is a coward; crazy assistant in place for the laughs ('Rover') and reluctant hero who emerges from the chaos to save the day. Oh, and in the end, boy gets girl...

Planet 51 is a good fun film with plenty to enjoy if not so original that it has you gasping for air. The script is funny, the action fast-paced and the animation excellent. The kids will love it, adults will like it and this is a movie that could find a permanent place on the DVD shelves of the future beside the movies mentioned at the outset.

DVD extras include: games, featurettes on the making of Planet 51 and its world and extended scenes.



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