Directed by: Jorge Blanco
Written by:Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese
Released: December 10, 2009
Grade: B

On a recent episode of At The Movies, Margaret Pomeranz says that she divides animated films into two categories – “animation ordinaire” and “animation that really is a notch above”.  It’s an apt way of summing up my own thoughts on the genre.  I’m usually “ok” with most animated films but I love those which have a rich, well thought out story.  Recent examples would include Up, Coraline, WALL-E and Ratatouille.

Planet 51 is a decent film but it’s not in the premiere league.  It’s the tale of an astronaut named Captain Charles T. Baker (Johnson) who lands on a planet which he thought to be uninhabited.  Instead, it finds it filled with cute-looking green aliens who speak English and live in a manner similar to our own (for reasons which are never explained – probably because there is no explanation).

The alien army seizes his spacecraft but he himself evades capture.  He meets a friendly alien named Lem (Long) who agrees to help him.  Lem realises that this human isn’t here to take over the planet or destroy their species.  He has come in peace.  The two must now devise a plan to get Lem back on his spacecraft and return home before it is too late.

It’s light-hearted stuff which kids should enjoy.  Justin Long is the best of the cast and I think makes a nice, likeable character out of Lem.  John Cleese seems to feature in so many animated films these days (Valiant, Shrek, Igor) but I never get tired of his antics.  Here, he does what he does best – playing an eccentric professor who thinks he’s an alien expert.

On the downside, there was potential to take this concept a lot further.  The idea of a human finding himself immersed in an alien world is the flip-side of so many other movies which have been made.  It’s all rather conservative but I admit to chuckling at a few of the pop culture references.  I don’t think I’ll be seeing it again but it was worth a look.