By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — It’s "Ozzie and Harriet" with an alien twist on "Planet 51" (TriStar), a delightful animated comedy that represents a clever riff on the cheesy science fiction B-movies of the 1950s.
In a galaxy far, far away little green aliens are living in a "Happy Days"-style suburbia, complete with white picket fences, backyard barbecues, tea parties, dogs chasing mailmen, teen angst, comic books and muscle cars with chrome fins. Adding spice to this innocent world is the local drive-in, showing the latest horror movie where one-eyed monsters called "Humaniacs" launch an invasion and turn everyone into zombies.
It’s good clean fun — until a real "alien" drops from the sky in a NASA capsule, and all heck breaks loose.
Enter one unsuspecting and overconfident astronaut, Captain Charles "Chuck" Baker (voice of "The Rock," Dwayne Johnson), and you have a classic fish-out-of-water tale. Chuck befriends Lem (voice of Justin Long), a shy nerdy kid who dreams of other worlds in his job at the planetarium, while pining for the comely Neera (voice of Jessica Biel).
The story shifts to chase-movie mode as Lem and his friends scramble to help this E.T. return home by escaping the clutches of evil Gen. Grawl (voice of Gary Oldman) and his mad-scientist ally, Professor Kipple (voice of John Cleese). Together they run Base 9, the top-secret "Area 51"-type facility where alien ephemera is housed.
Viewers will enjoy the many clever references to sci-fi classics like "Star Wars" and "War of the Worlds."
Practically stealing the movie (and owing a lot to "Wall-E") is Rover, Chuck’s robot companion, who lives up to his name, bouncing about like man’s best friend. True to his programming, Rover ignores all alien life in search of rock samples. On Planet 51, it rains "rocks and dogs," and amid a shower of pebbles Rover has a hilarious "Singing in the Rain" moment worthy of Gene Kelly.
The first feature of Ilion Animation Studios, based in Spain, and directed by Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, and Marcos Martinez, "Planet 51" is a funny, fast-paced, and colorfully rendered movie worthy of Pixar status. The screenplay by Joe Stillman ("Shrek" and "Shrek 2") is laden with sight gags and witty one-liners.
"Planet 51" features positive life lessons about friendship, loyalty, and acceptance of others. Chuck comes to realize that having the "right stuff" means risking everything to help a stranger in need. And he tells Lem, "Don’t be afraid of the unknown. It’s not something to be afraid of. It can be your best friend."
Apart from one unfortunate sexual joke ("That’s a funny place for an antenna") and some mildly suggestive humor, this is a wholesome and fun film that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.