PLANET 51 is the Meg Ryan of kids animation. It's not flashy, ground-breaking or breath-taking. Rather, it's harmless, banal, and mildy amusing in parts. As Christmas entertainment for bored kids, you could fare worse, but this is no TOY STORY.
The concept is clever. Instead of aliens invading earth, with all the predictable genre-defining consequences, earthlings invade an alien planet. Or rather, a narcissistic astronaut (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) lands on a planet of little green men and women. The kicker is that the aliens are just as versed in pop culture and B-movies, and are just as petrified of the "alien" as we would be. In fact, one of the most memorable and endearing things about this film is the beautiful and witty translation of the look of late 1950s/early 1960s small-town America to the alien planet.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't really live up to the concept, because there really isn't one. The astronaut lands, gets separated from his ship, hides out with our alien teen hero (Justin Long) and then tries to get back to his ship. On the way, his robot (a dead ringer for Wall-E) tries to hook up with him and his alien helper tries to hook up with a hot alien chick (Jessica Biel). The problem is that the guy we're meant to empathise with as our hero is pretty whiny and dull, and the other person we might empathise with, the astronaut, is an insufferable bore. It's never good when the little robot has more personality than the hero. (As a sidenote, I also don't get why Dwayne Johnson couldn't have voiced a coloured astronaut?)
So, where does that leave us? PLANET 51 works well as a namecheck of alien invasion classics, and adults will get a certain kick out of that. There's probably enough slapstick humour, not to mention the cute robot, and that'll keep the kids happy. Happy, but in a sort of disposable, single-serving way.
PLANET 51 was released in November in the US, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Cyprus, Mexico and Spain. It opened earlier in December in the Philippines, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Iceland, the UK, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Bulgaria, Panama and Venezuela. It opens tomorrow in Turkey and on December 31st in Slovenia. It opens in Finland on January 1st, in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden on January 14th. It opens in France on February 3rd and in Belgium and the Netherlands on February 10th.