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Planet 51 DVD Review

Planet 51 (2009) movie poster Planet 51

Theatrical Release: November 20, 2009 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jorge Blanco / Co-Directors: Javier Abad, Marcos Martνnez / Writers: Joe Stillman (script); Javier Abad, Jorge Blanco, Marcos Martνnez, Ignacio Pιrez Dolset (original idea)

Voice Cast: Dwayne Johnson (Captain Charles T. Baker), Jessica Biel (Neera), Justin Long (Lem Korplos), Gary Oldman (General Grawl), Seann William Scott (Skiff), John Cleese (Professor Kipple), Freddie Benedict (Eckle), Alan Marriott (Glar), Mathew Horne (Soldier Vesklin), James Corden (Soldier Vernkot)

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Planet 51 has kind of a clever starting point. In what looks and sounds like the 1950s, popular movies imagine what would happen if aliens were to invade. The concept seems to fascinate the public, who, with their green skin and antennae, viewers are apt to label the aliens. The land then gets a distant visitor in what we recognize as a human American astronaut.

Sadly, that is about the extent of this film's originality. While the setting recalls the '50s sci-fi craze of B-movies and innocent paranoia, the rest of Planet 51 is highly derivative of modern computer-animated comedies.

Teenaged Lem (voiced by Justin Long) stumbles through an astronomical presentation as an audition for a job at the Glipforg Observatory. Dwayne Johnson channels his inner Caucasian as arrogant blonde American astronaut Chuck T. Baker, the "alien" of this film.

The arrival of the spaceman, Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), sets off a familiar flurry of excitement from the planet's native race. Baker is taken in by our green protagonist, Lem (Justin Long). You've seen this kind of character before. A new hire at the local planetarium, banana-haired Lem is a shy young guy lacking in confidence.
He just can't bring himself to tell his dream girl next door, Neera (Jessica Biel), of his feelings for her. But Lem is decent and thus willing to believe that Baker comes in peace.

The rest of the populace is far more skeptical. Panic and misinformation abounds. On the military front, General Grawl (Gary Oldman) is determined to capture and eliminate the threat before it can turn citizens into zombies. Grawl's advisor, Professor Kipple (John Cleese), sees removing and examining the astronaut's brain as inevitable. A handful of hippie protestors, apparently a decade ahead of the rest of society, plead for humane solutions.

Meanwhile, Lem and his new roommate try to keep off the radar. The goal is to reunite Baker with his spaceship so that he can return to Earth. Apparently, there are just three days to do this. Also around for our amusement are the robotic Rover, earning his name with dog-like behavior, and geeky comic lover Skiff (Seann William Scott).

Professor Kipple (John Cleese) and General Grawl (Gary Oldman) supply both villainy and Twix product placement in this one scene. Ahead of his time long-haired hippie Glar comes between Lem and his dream girl Neera (voiced by Jessica Biel).

The promise displayed in the opening scenes is quickly forgotten as the film settles for an utterly routine execution. Planet 51 is the first feature created by Ilion Animation Studios of Madrid, Spain. There is nothing to suggest that it was made by Spaniards or anyone outside of America. But then there is nothing to suggest that the film was made by creative humans and not a computer system exposed to the cornucopia of CGI comedies released in the past ten years. Every aspect of the storytelling seems to have been previously tested and deemed favorable.

That lazy, by-the-numbers approach might be okay if the elements succeeded as in past applications, but they do not. In fact, although nothing seems particularly subpar, the components have surprisingly little holding power as a whole.

The animation looks nice, if not as polished, detailed or ambitious as the industry standard-bearers. The music, primarily no-name covers of still-familiar 1950s American pop tunes, is tolerable. The voice cast, if not worthy of prominent pre-title billing, carries reasonable amounts of fame and experience. The comedy may be a little limp, but some laughs still emerge from the screenplay by Joe Stillman. (Before being one of four scribes on Shrek and Shrek 2, Stillman penned installments of Mike Judge's "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "King of the Hill", plus two of the very best "Adventures of Pete & Pete" episodes.) Throw it all together and it should form at least a moderately entertaining experience, right? Not really.

The two dogs of "Planet 51" -- probe on wheels Rover and "Alien" homage Ripley -- meet here. Lem (left) isn't cool but he seems closer to it than his comic-craving buddies Eckle (center) and Skiff.

Ultimately, the film lacks those essential intangibles -- personality, identity, and charm -- that keep good films in your memory indefinitely even while watching new movies every week. The closest to wit we find here is a barrage of sci-fi homage, most cleverly a dome-faced dog named Ripley inspired by Alien in every way. More often, we're treated to recent cultural references, as the film is apparently set in the present day, as Baker and we know it.
The only exhibition of grace may be that audiences were spared a 3-D presentation and all the visual gimmickry that goes with it. I suspect that was out of necessity and that the parties regret they weren't able to jump on that lucrative bandwagon.

IMDb lists Planet 51's production as spanning sixteen months. That's less than half the time that Pixar tends to pour into their films. And even if IMDb isn't always right, the paucity of the end credits' "Production Babies" suggests their information on this checks out. Sixteen months from now, few people will really remember Planet 51. I finished watching it only about an hour ago and I'm already challenged to recall specifics. The film isn't alone in its lack of memorability. Space Chimps and Fly Me to the Moon came a year earlier and my mind has since reduced them to an "Axel F" dancing joke and Cold War Russian caricatures, respectively. There are simply too many computer-animated comedies out there to make a lasting impression with something generic and uninspired. You've got to either be very good or very bad to stand out. Too few CGI comedies fall into either of those classes and Planet 51 isn't one of them.

There aren't too many people that could tell you that right now. Released five days before Thanksgiving, Planet 51 put up unusually weak numbers at the box office. However, its North American gross, which should be over $42 million after the weekend's actual earnings are announced, was still more than the combined total of fellow fall family films Astro Boy and Fantastic Mr. Fox, both of which (especially the latter) earned more critical acclaim. Planet 51 gets a slight jump on them, coming to DVD and Blu-ray a week and two ahead of them when it streets this Tuesday from distributor Sony.

Buy Planet 51 on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Some Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
White Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo
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Planet 51 provides an exemplary audio/video presentation here. The widescreen-only DVD delivers the pleasant enough visuals in 2.35:1 with nary a concern. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is broad and active, supplying a lively mix.

Help Rover jump and duck through an obstacle course. Or don't. It makes no difference to the game. Lem and Chuck catch some black & white TV programming in one of three briefly-extended scenes. Haglug Comics is one of the film's locations toured in "The World of Planet 51."


The DVD's supply of glossy extras begins with the "Run Rover Run! Obstacle Course Game." The first and last levels of this 3-part game have you make the WALL•E-like roving bot jump and duck his way across one-minute jaunts. In between, there is an overlong Whac-A-Mole-type round (like a virtual version of Pizza Planet's Whack-A-Alien, I suppose)
that gives you ample time to hit your targets. You supposedly have three lives to complete the entire game, but per the limitations of DVD games like these, the roving rounds play out the same whether you touch the right button on your remote control or no buttons at all.

Three short Extended Scenes (2:45) serve up unseen gags: hidden-in-bedroom banter, more Twix product placement while Chuck realizes the limits of three television channels, and a moment in the comic book store. They're fully animated and no less forgettable than what made the cut, so their deletions are puzzling but go unexplained.

"The World of Planet 51" (2:50) takes us through some of the movie's locations while Tom Cawte and The Electric Hearts' end credits song "Stick It to the Man" plays. Simple but nice.

Idea man and co-director Marcos Martinez pitches a storyboard sequence in "Life on Planet 51." He was probably inspired by other animated films' DVD bonus materials. Lucky for us, "Planetarium - The Voice Stars of Planet 51" interviews Justin Long on what appears to be his second day of facial hair growth.

"Life on Planet 51" (12:00) is a making-of featurette seemingly designed for people who haven't yet seen the movie. Following the plot-explaining bits, the celebrity voice actors are discussed and depicted at work. We finally and briefly get to the Spanish animators. The fluffy piece's end reveals the downside of producing supplements before release, as everyone's enthusiastic comments and high hopes for the film now carry irony.

"Planetarium - The Voice Stars of Planet 51" (3:12) further promotes the film with clips and comments by Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, and Jessica Biel. There are a few fleeting glimpses of the actors recording lines, but this condensed piece is clearly designed to sell the movie. You get more on the voice acting in the previous featurette.

The "Planet 51 Music Video Montage" (2:05) is like a trailer more interested in setting clips to music than relaying story. The two partially sampled songs are Blink 182's "Aliens Exist" and The Killers' "Spaceman", neither of which is heard in the film itself.

General Grawl's gun aiming grows more menacing with each additional stage depicted of the Animation Progression Reels. Eckle, the film's youngest character, gets his moment on the DVD's animated main menu loop.

"Animation Progression Reels" (15:50) present six scenes in split-screens depicting four different stages of production (story reels, final film, and two intermediate states of animation).
The quarter-screen format is actually more illustrative than the multiple angles and repeated clip methods usually employed for this kind of feature. That makes the lighting, shading, and effects work easier to appreciate.

Finally, we get Previews for Hachi: A Dog's Tale, Open Season 3, Playmobil: The Secret of Pirate Island, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, Open Season, Open Season 2, Surf's Up and Ice Castles. The first three play automatically before the menu loads.

The animated main menu moves character stills and faded video across the screen right to left while dramatic score plays. A booklet in the ecologically-cut white keepcase holds codes for custodial account investing and getting extra content in the online Planet 51 video game.

Wielding enough confidence for the both of them, Chuck Baker has some lady-wooing advice to impart on the lovelorn Lem. The good news is that Mac has reunited with his family. The bad news is they're desperately in need of some Coca-Cola.


If you just can't get enough computer-animated comedy, then Planet 51 is for you. This film flips the alien-on-Earth movie by making a human the alien on a distant planet whose culture somehow mirrors that of 1950s America. If only the creators had some interesting ideas beyond that set-up, then they'd really have something. Instead, it's just a run-of-the-mill modern cartoon, supplying all the standard ingredients: flashy visuals, cultural references, bathroom jokes, some cinematic homage for the adults, and the requisite action climax. It's not necessarily a bad time, it's just a vapid and boring one. Sony's DVD serves up a quality feature presentation but little of worth beyond that.

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The Voice Cast of Planet 51:
Dwayne Johnson: Race to Witch Mountain • The Game Plan | John Cleese: The Muppet Show: Season 2 • The Great Muppet Caper
Justin Long: Alvin and the Chipmunks (Special Edition) • Galaxy Quest (Deluxe Edition) • He's Just Not That Into You
Jessica Biel: I'll Be Home for Christmas • Next | Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker's Dracula

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Reviewed March 8, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 TriStar Pictures, Ilion Animation Studios, HandMade Films International, and 2010 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.