A lot of animated projects come up and down the cinematic pike. But if you’re not Pixar or DreamWorks, chances are you’ll be fighting to establish an audience.
“Planet 51” is the first feature by Ilion Animation, and while it’s not a home run cinematically speaking, it’s a solid entry and should promise a second film from the fledgling studio.
“51” is a yarn of a planet of green-skinned aliens (which, it’s noted, are not aliens on their home planet) who are inexplicably stuck in 1950s-era America, right down to their music, with ditties like “Mr. Sandman” and “Jailhouse Rock” among their hits.
They also share a fascination the same fascinated paranoia that their earthbound colleagues did, with rumors of invading aliens coming to destroy, conquer, or otherwise enslave their race.
Lem (Justin Long, who should heretofore never again be called The Mac Guy) is a normal young man who just scored a job at a planetarium and has the hots for the girl next door, the spunky Neera (Jessica Biel).
Enter Captain Charles T. Baker (Dwayne Johnson), an American astronaut who believes he’s landing on an uninhabited planet, but instead lands literally in Lem’s back yard.
Baker, of course, seems to have hopped out of a 1950s newsreel of how an astronaut should behave. He’s a smiling, toothy, bumbling explorer-cum-movie-star who has let the celebrity go to his head.
So he’s ill-prepared for the onslaught when the local military looks to capture him and do whatever it is military types do to alien invaders.
At its heart “51” is a buddy movie, with Lem and Charles a mismatched couple who find connection and eventually friendship. But there’s plenty of rollicking action, and the film is very nice to look at. The colors are vibrant and rich, and the animation is sm0oth and engaging visually.
The jokes and action sequences are above-average but mostly nothing spectacular in an age where Pixar is pushing the limits of animation a tick or two higher every year.
Some standout secondary characters are both dog-like; there’s Rover, who is a more advanced version of the real-life Mars rover, and another is an alien “dog” (named Ripley, no less) that strongly resembles another famous alien.
Of course the kids are going to love it. For adults, “Planet 51” should prove a diverting good time; probably nothing groundbreaking, but you’re not going to be sitting in the theater wondering what to make for dinner.