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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Planet 51 (review)

Planetary Misalignment

We have no idea why it’s called Planet 51, or why the pleasantly blobby green humanoid aliens wear no trousers — jackets and ties or T-shirts for the males, and of course the ladies wear skirts (and have feet shaped like high heels, like Barbie!). We have no idea how cultural convergence allows them to speak English — except for the proper names, which all sound like “Vernkot” and “Glipforg” — or to be having their 1950s, complete with malt shops and alien invasion movies, just as a human from Earth arrives among them to terrorize them.
It’s not supposed to matter, I suppose. It’s just a kids movie, we’re meant to understand. And it doesn’t matter, I guess. Because Planet 51 isn’t really interested in saying much to its audience, whoever that audience turns out to be. As usual with movies like this, much of what makes it as mildly amusing as it is will go right over kids’ heads, like the Singin’ in the Rain reference. And much of what might have made it appealing to true devotees of science fiction and cinema, like how it’s a pastiche of 1950s B-movies, is lost when its parodying of the paranoia and xenophobia of those films is so relentlessly trite and obvious; like the similar Alien Trespass, from earlier this year, we see again that it’s not enough to point and laugh at the silly old movies with their now blatant subtexts — we already got that, thanks very much.

See, American astronaut Captain Charles T. Baker (the voice of Dwayne Johnson: Race to Witch Mountain, Get Smart) arrives on this distant planet expecting to find it uninhabited — the best spark of cleverness in Joe Stillman’s (Shrek and Shrek 2, Beavis & Butt-Head Do America) script is how the advance probe we sent is interested only in rocks, and sends pictures home of nothing but rocks, and so neglects to notify us of the planet’s lush and abundant biosphere. Instead, Baker lands his Apollo-style lander in the small-town backyard of Lem (the voice of Justin Long: Funny People, Drag Me to Hell), a young man still living with his parents — and in love with Neera (the voice of Jessica Biel: Easy Virtue, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry), the green girl next door, natch — who just got a job at the local planetarium. Now, Lem and his comic-book-nerd, sci-fi-obsessed pal Skiff (the voice of Seann William Scott: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Role Models), must hide the alien invader lest mean ol’ General Grawl (the voice of Gary Oldman: A Christmas Carol, The Unborn) capture the alien invader and lets his scientist, Professor Kipple (the voice of John Cleese: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Igor), remove Chuck’s brain for examination. And maybe win Neera’s heart — or whatever these people use for a circulatory organ that also represents romance — along the way.

You don’t need to have seen the movie to guess how it plays out. You probably didn’t even need to read that explanation of the plot — you already knew it would fall out along precisely those lines.

Planet 51 isn’t terrible, just bland and predictable as a story, though at least the humor that’s tacked onto it is gentle and unassuming, with only a scant few jokes about the presumed anal violation the alien idiot flyboy Right Stuff astronaut will inflict upon the natives. And there are real delights to be had. Though it’s rarely enough to keep me happy, here I’m not at all uncomfortable calling this “eye candy,” and meaning it in a positive way. The trio of first-time directors — Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, and Marcos Martinez — along with their teams of designers and animators have whipped up a charming-to-look-at world, an alien Hill Valley that is all round edges and hovering cars, and have invented two of the most delightful only-coulda-been-animated characters ever, in a dog that’s like a cuddly little Giger Alien and in that rock-loving Rover, who also behaves like a dog though it looks like Wall-E. And when these two critters get togther, it’s the most adorable puppyish fun you can get without, you know, actual puppies.

I wish the whole movie had been about them.

MPAA: rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • allochthon

    Aaawww, the alien puppy is cute. But — isn’t that Gadget?
    (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

  • LSL

    I just saw this with my kids, who loved it, as did I. Not as “preachy” for me as Wall-E, and they seemed to pay much more attention to it than they did Wall-E.

    Now, I think you have to be a 50s B-Movie lover (as I am) to enjoy this. It’s really a “send-up” of 50s Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi in general. My kids are not big fans (yet :-), but we’ve been watching Lost in Space recently, and they caught a reference to LIS that I missed. So it really depends on how much you know about the movies and genre to which Planet 51 is paying homage.

    Yes, familiar story line, but, how many alien invasion movies aren’t about aliens landing on another planet and having some adventures.

    I’d give it a “worth seeing in the theater” if you have grade-school age children and you will enjoy seeing it with them if you’re a fan of the 50s B- and Sci-Fi genre.

    Most violence is only implied, as are many of the “off color” jokes – many of which will go right over young ones’ heads. Most of it is no worse than Bugs Bunny going “mmm, hmmm” while reading “How to Multiply” (pretty risque when that was made). In fact, there are no “other words for Donkey” used like in Shrek – I really don’t like hearing that kind of language in a movie for kids, even in “allowed” use of the word – it’s just not necessary.

    Planet 51 is, simply, fun. And like our own movies of the 50’s a pleasant diversion. Suspend your disbelief for a little while, and enjoy it.

  • fun

    If U got kids u need 2 go see Planet 51 ! I promise U’ll laugh as much as your kids do !!.(7 and 8). Older kids to half moon.

  • This movie looks terrible. First of all, astronauts are generally well educated, and yet Dwayne Johnson’s character doesn’t even know the definition of “alien”. He IS the alien, seeing as he’s not native to their planet.
    Second, the chances of a civilization that far away from us (who have not been surveying us) that speaks english are zero to none.
    Third, UFO and Flying Saucer are not interchangeable terms. It pretty much has to be saucer shaped in order to be a flying saucer, and what he travels in is not saucer shaped.

  • MG

    My son and I saw Planet 51 over the weekend and I just could not wait for the movie to be over. I agree with this review. It wasn’t horrible but it was bland and boring and just took too long to get to the point. I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters – like I did with Shrek, Wall E, Monsters v Aliens. Keeping in mind that this is a kids’ movie – even my son (8) was not impressed. The movie was “drawn” well and the scenery was impressive but it was the plot that left me hangin.

  • liz

    Planet 51 Onlie see, In the movie Nemo fish speak and read English. Oh my God!! Are cartoons movie no a documentary. Jokes and funny situations are the objetive os this kinf of movies. Watched with my kids and they enjoy it!

  • Julie

    I didnt care for the movie but I still thought it was worth seeing. I’ve seen much better movies, though. My daughter, who’s 13, thought it was cute but seemed to be much more interested in New Moon, as was my son, who’s 10. For younger kids, a must see. Parents will have fun and the kids will enjoy it too.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Captain Charles T. Baker (the voice of Dwayne Johnson)… Lem (the voice of Justin Long)…Neera (the voice of Jessica Biel)…Skiff (the voice of Seann William Scott)…General Grawl (the voice of Gary Oldman)… Professor Kipple (the voice of John Cleese)

    You know, I am almost too tired to make my obligatory comment, but it’s nice to see that in addition to adopting our ideas about gendered clothing, the aliens also know that women and girls are only good for romance and should not represent more than the most minimal fraction of any cast of characters. I had to go down 13 names, into “additional voices,” on the IMDB cast list to find a second woman voice actor.


  • Jason

    I also could not wait for this movie to come out. I took my eight year old son with me as we had seen the trailers and were drooling in anticipation of it’s release. We did laugh at the funny parts but we had already seen them in the trailers. We waited for the movie to get interesting but it never did. We ended up leaving half-way though the movie. If you must see this movie, I suggest waiting until it hits the cheap theaters or goes to DVD. Don’t worry, it will be there soon! This movie gets two thumbs down!

  • Jack

    I’ve seen the movie with my little nephews and we all liked it.
    they laughed as I did, despite of they didn’t understand some joks like de cork stuff.
    I didn’t ask myself so many things as you did. I just saw the movie and had fun and didn’t care if the aliens wore pants or not, it’s just a movie!
    I also liked how the actors played their roles.
    but, yes, you’re right, what almost everyone liked most was Rover and the alien dog which pees acid.

    well, it’s a good movie, well done and a good story.

  • EZ

    This movie is the SMARTEST animation that I’ve ever seen (along with “Shrek”-1). It is a parody on our society and behavior, based on prejudice and propaganda brainwashing, and clear prediction what could happen if “aliens” would come. The movie is funny (and even uses some kind of plagiarism in context to make it funnier) I really like it (as well as my 9-year son) and recommend to anyone. See the movie, enjoy, get some fun and laugh … on ourselves’ reaction that we’ll experience if “alien invasion” would ever happen to us…

  • pingpong

    planet 51 is the best film i’ve seen in my life! (i’m 10.)

  • Barnie

    this movie was stupid.

  • Pedro

    I liked. this movie the first time – when it was called “Battle for Terra”!

    Actually, i didn’t. I hated it. But it would spoil the reference.

    Oh well, I have big hopes for this one, but they’re slowly getting quenched…

  • Stephen Maradona

    I think when you’re reading a movie review and someone is arguing that there were only 2 female voice actors in the first 13, you feel like you’re hearing people’s personal greviences with life rather than the movie itself.

    I’ve just read every comment to decide if i should take my children to see it this afternoon. I’m listening to the 10 year old and going to see it. Adults are miserable.

    Steve (aged 30)

  • Lucy Gillam

    Well, yes. One of my personal grievances with Hollywood is that despite being half the human race, women are often represented in children’s movies by a single character (unless they’re about a princess who falls in love, because that’s all women do, you know). And yes, that is one of my many, many grievances with our culture where gender is concerned. It’s nice for you that you can ignore that part of “the movie itself.” I don’t have that privilege, since it’s people like me, and like my daughter, who are being written all but out of existence.


    havent seen movie. mom trying to drag me to movie. me no want see movie. look odd. the rock has hit “rock” bottom. ha, i just made a pun.

  • tamara bell

    I just saw planet 51 and thought it was cute. Its really awful to hear people comment about things that just have nothing to do with the movie at all! Why do you people have to make everything about some personal issue? Its a cute kid movie with a warm message. That’s it! I wouldn’t say the greatest but who cares? Children will love it!

  • Lucy Gillam


    Which is to say, the fact that there is one female first-tier character is part of the movie.

  • softestbullet

    10-year-old me knew it was bullshit when girls were marginalized in the movies, too.

  • Johnny

    My name is Spudnik and i say WHAT THE F*CK. Thankyou.

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