November 19, 2009


   Home Page

 News & Features


 Columns & Opinions

   Publisher's Note





 Pop Culture



   Video Games
   CD Reviews




   Grazing Guide



   Music Roundup

   Live Music/DJs

   MP3 & Podcasts





 Find A Hippo




   View Classified Ads

   Place a Classified Ad




 Contact Us

   Hippo Staff

   How to Reach The Hippo

 Past Issues

   Browse by Cover

Planet 51 (PG)
The human becomes the E.T. when an American astronaut lands on a world of fearful green aliens in Planet 51, a strangely joyless animated movie.

Lem (voice of Justin Long) is a nerdy dreamer who loves his job at the planetarium and loves thinking about space, even though he and the other lizard-ish antenna-having green beings on Planet 51 think space is extremely limited and they’re the only intelligent life in it. And when pompous astronaut Chuck (Dwayne Johnson) bounds out of his space ship to plant the American flag in the middle of what turns out to be a suburban yard, he doesn’t immediately change this species’ mind about the only-intelligent-life question. They stare at him as he screams in terror and runs away from a particularly affectionate alien dog. But as word spreads, the denizens of this land that, in music and appearance if not in antennae, resembles Anytown, America, 1950s, start to freak out. B-movies have led them to believe that alien species, particularly the terrifying Humaniacs, are mind-controlling cannibals who will enslave those they don’t immediately eat. So the military is called in with the extra-paranoid General Grawl (Gary Oldman) at its head and they begin the search to capture Chuck and all his strange technology.

Naturally, while the military is busy not finding Chuck, Chuck finds Lem and annoys the teenager-ish space geek until he’ll agree to help Chuck out. While the rest of the world thinks Chuck is a monster, Lem learns that Chuck is really a slightly scaredy-cat doofus. Soon, Lem and his crew — his comic book-loving geeky friends and Neera (Jessica Biel), the girl on whom he crushes — are charged with helping Chuck avoid capture and return to his orbiter before the auto-pilot sends the craft home and strands him on Planet 51 forever.

This movie has some nice kid-flick elements: the pompous guy who learns to trust in geeks, the geeks who learn to trust in themselves, the people who learn not to fear someone who’s different, the 1950s setting on this faraway planet. And it has some nice voice actors, particularly in Dwayne Johnson, who manages to make Chuck full of himself and still likeable. But there is no spark of life to this movie. The voices don’t turn the figures on screen into fully realized characters. The story is predictable and doesn’t ever surprise you with the new or exciting way it approaches something. The jokes register as jokes without necessarily tickling your funny bone.

I wasn’t having any fun with the Planet 51 world and I didn’t sense that anyone younger was either. I kept waiting for the kids in the theater where I saw this movie to form that chorus of laughter that can tell you when they’re having fun even if you’re not getting it. But while I heard a few giggles here and there at the pratfalls and poop jokes and a few adult chuckles at the pop culture references (yes, this is one of those cartoons), I never got the sense that the kids were loving this crazy space ride. C-

Rated PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor. Directed by Jorge Blanco and written by Joe Stillman, Planet 51 is an hour and 28 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures. It opens on Friday, Nov. 20.