Opens Friday, November 20th
Written by: Stephanie Andolino, Freelance Entertainment Reporter
Planet 51 is a charming animated tale that takes viewers inside an imaginary world into outer space that is only too close to home – or perhaps what used to be. It’s a planet that is actually a throw-back to a gentler time in our history – the 1950s, hence the title of the film: “Planet 51” (as in 1951).
Astronaut Charles “Chuck” T. Baker discovers HE is the “alien”.
In a reversal of situations, NASA astronaut Charles “Chuck” T. Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lands on Planet 51 where he discovers extraterrestrial life form, making him their “alien”, or “humanoid” as the Planet 51 aliens call us. Aside from physical traits including green skin, four-fingered hands, and webbed feet, the aliens are quite humanistic in nature. Male aliens wear 1950s bowling shirts, females wear dresses all the time, and kids are excited about the local comic book store and what’s playing at the movie theater. And of course they speak our language – English.
In true Hollywood fashion, Chuck must engage the help of a few kind green aliens, Lem (Justin Long) who is a student and aspiring astronomer, Lem’s friend Skiff (Seann William Scott), and girlfriend Neera (Jessica Biel) in order to find his way home. In the interim, Chuck must dodge bullets, hide out, and ultimately stand up to enemies General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and Professor Kipple (John Cleese) in order to get his happy ending and make it back to Earth.
The beautiful and lush animation was truly “out of this world.” You won’t be able to keep your eyes off of the aliens’ hair alone! The texture was so life-like you just wanted to reach out and grab it! It reminded me of the thick play-dough spaghetti you used to make as a child from the Play-Doh spaghetti factory set. According to Director of Technology, Gonzalo Rueda, from Spanish company Ilion Animation Studios who created the feature, they used what is known as a full-body animation rig that created the ability to give the characters such believable movements. “We try to keep the controls as simple as possible, while always making sure that the animator has full control over every aspect of a character’s behavior”, Rueda said.
“Planet 51” is the first feature for Ilion Animation Studios, released by Sony and cost $60 million to make. Written by Joe Stillman (“Shrek”, “Shrek 2”), it took three years in the making. The talent of twelve executive producers, and three directors, Jorge Blanco, with co-directors Javier Abad, and Marco Martinez went into the making of this movie. Even the actors remember how far back and how hard and long the producers and directors worked on getting this film made. According to each of the three main stars, it was truly an amazing experience to be part of this long creative journey.
Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a “The Rock”) who was the voice of Chuck, stated, “for me, it was the first time that I had done an animation movie and trying to bring the characters to life with your voice.” With the long process of getting this film made it truly was a labor of love for the production team. According to Johnson, “their passion in the room when you’re doing the voice-overs was very intoxicating, very inspiring. It was the coolest thing when I finally saw the movie (completed).”
The character of Neera (Jessica Biel) had a sense of independence about her as a young female coming into her own. According to Biel, she went back to her teenage years of feeling what it was like to be in that in-between stage of life from childhood to womanhood to relate to her character. “Neera is really taken by the idea of being part of something bigger than herself,” said Biel.
Justin Long (“Drag Me to Hell”, Mac commercials) , is no stranger to voice-over work. He is the voice of Alvin in the new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” features. For him the film beautiful animation is what really excited him about the project about this Utopian alien world. And he related to his character, remembering his own youth as well. “It was nice to go back to that time…a more innocent time.”
It is this sense of innocence that the filmmakers were truly able to manifest in this feature. With such an idea of peace and utopia seemingly all but just a fantasy anymore, it is a great escape to such a world. Maybe it is too much to think that there ever was such a time of innocence. More importantly, maybe it is more than a film just to make kids happy, but also give us the idea of what the world could actually be.
There is a video game to go along with the film as well. Rated E for everyone.