He who sips from many cups, drinks from none.
The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior and has inferior offspring.
— Plato, The Republic, Book X.
Wow! A movie with NO original ideas! PLANET 51 is a glop of as many nudge-nudge wink-wink cultural references as cartoonly possible in an uninvolving 91-minute chase movie.
Set on an alien planet which is basically 1950’s Middle America with rounded edges, this animated comedy feature offers nothing in the way of ideas, creativity or entertainment. Its only hook is that the roles of alien and human have been reversed. A (very unlikable) human astronaut (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lands on an alien planet claiming it for the Yewnited States, and finds it is already populated by little green beings (who are not even “alien,” just Middle Americans with antennae and no pants).
Astronaut Baker – the jingoistic selfish, provincial Ugly American – finds that HE is the “alien.” Uh huh. A twist so original I almost lost my Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album.
On this planet (which is never actually called Planet 51), propaganda paints humans as “Humaniacs” out to eat your brains and turn you into a zombie. So astronaut Baker is hunted by the military and helped by a young native boy, Lem (voice of Justin Long), whose main concern is trying to get his smooth crotch onto the presumably smoother crotch of the native girl next door, Neera (Jessica Biel).
In just its first 15 minutes, PLANET 51 mentions, pays homage to, plagiarizes, satirizes, spoofs [intake big breath]: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BACK TO THE FUTURE, “duck and roll,” anal probing, Griffith Observatory, Pod People, APOLLO 13, LOST IN SPACE, STAR WARS, THE RIGHT STUFF, WAR OF THE WORLDS, E.T THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, McCarthyism, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, Bob Dylan, The Macarena, Singing In The Rain, ALIEN, “Resistance is Futile,” GREASE, THE TERMINATOR, George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act, every single cliché from 1950’s sci-fi films, even the Republican mindset (“the universe is over 500 miles long and contains over 1000 stars!”), and 1950 sexual propaganda, i.e. sex=death (just as two virginal teens are about to make out in a sci-fi movie, a Humaniac ship attacks and the girl says, “I knew this would happen if we made out!”). Even Lem’s name is the original acronym for the Apollo Lunar Module (Lunar Excursion Module).
There’s only so much referencing/homaging one can do before it all just piles into a dungheap of derivative plagiarism.
But it’s for the children! The Universal Excuse for cartoons infused with mediocrity and lack of ingenuity.
But I ask: which children will understand why astronaut Baker is humming Thus Spake Zarathustra while he’s planting his flag? Or the thousands upon thousands of other layered references? Stop bullshitting a bullshitter: The references are for adults – who are not so much “appreciating” them as being pummeled by them.
Just as in MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (which was also not funny), PLANET 51 hits a raw nerve when it makes a little kid accuse his mother of being taken over by aliens, so that the military will chase her and he can escape his dentist visit. In this toxic political nightmare that we call Amerika, where torture and denial of rights and suspension of habeas corpus are realities brought about by that felon imbecile who last stank up the Commander-in-Chief’s seat, this is just not funny.
John Cleese (as expected) lords it comedically over the other voice talent as Professor Kipple. And Gary Oldman, with his arsenal of voices, is majestic as the General, but the script lets him down.
When I saw the Handmade Films logo, I held out hope for this movie, but George Harrison’s original indie company – formed to provide funding for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and TIME BANDITS – has gone through so many corporate takeovers that it has morphed from supporting incendiaries like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS to insipids like PLANET 51. Ilion Animation is the animation studio. All we know is–
This ain’t Pixar.