"This is the peace shield!" "Nothing says peace like a gigantic gun."
I will fully admit that I was filled with nothing but apprehension about the new Weinstein Company animated film Escape From Planet Earth. The first trailer I saw for it, which was before Wreck-It Ralph, made it look like a 7-11 commercial with a hackneyed storyline. As a movie loving parent with movie loving daughters, it's my duty to see most every kid friendly film that gets released and I knew I'd get dragged to this one as well.
Thankfully, the film is actually infinitely better than its advertising campaign would lead you to believe. In fact, despite some lame jokes early on and some ridiculous plot contrivances, the film is actually pretty good.
Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a renegade space hero from the planet Baab (pronounced Bob). His older brother Gary (Rob Corddry) is in charge of mission control on his adventures, and constantly saving his brother's hide. When Scorch accepts a dangerous mission to "The Dark Planet" (Earth), Gary protests, as no aliens have ever come back from that planet. Scorch fires his brother & sets off to be a hero.
Arriving on Earth, Scorch is kidnapped by the corrupt General Shanker (William Shatner) and held with other abducted aliens. Gary, feeling bad about the falling out with his brother, mounts a rescue mission to get his brother back. Once he arrives on Earth, he is promptly abducted as well, and begins to uncover a much more nefarious scheme at work involving General Shanker.
At first, the film seemed to be going for a lot of cheap, lowest common denominator jokes, but it began to show some signs of both life and bite with an informational video that Gary watches about Earth. Narrated by Ricky Gervais, it's actually a scathing indictment of a lot of things that humanity has done over the course of its evolution. I and many of the other parents in the audience were in hysterics, and it pulled me instantly back into the film.
There are several Star Trek references as well, such as referring to Earth as a Class-M planet, but the film actually manages to balance these jokes that will fly over the heads of children, with lots of jokes that they will eat up. Ultimately, what won me over was the film's underlying message that our planet is full of militaristic madmen who would genuinely not understand what to do with aliens who actually do come in peace. It's what I had been hoping to find more of in Monsters Vs Aliens or Planet 51 several years ago, but this film is actually much better than those as it balances the commentary quite well with themes that children will latch on to like working together to achieve a goal and believing in yourself.
The voice cast is excellent, with some great supporting turns from Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson, & George Lopez. Corrdry is very good as well, as is Sarah Jessica Parker as his wife & Shatner is always a hoot. Fraser might be the only one completely out of his league. His character seems to reside in a much dumber film and most of what didn't work for me revolved around his character. With four credited writers on the film, it's no surprise that some of the jokes and situations were going to land flat, but his entire character seemed like a relic of an earlier, dumber draft of the film.
First time feature director Cal Brunker manages to keep the action moving well. He cut his teeth as a storyboard artist on such animated films as Horton Hears a Who, 9, & Despicable Me, so he's got some good experience under his belt. Two of the film's writers have also written the Hoodwinked films, which I think are pretty decent as well, and I would say that if you liked those films, you'll like this one as well.
The matinee my daughter and I attended today was packed, mainly because school is out and there's been a dearth of animated theatrical films since Rise of the Guardians, but part of me is hopeful that a halfway decent film is actually going to find an audience and make some money. This is not the kind of film that will set the world on fire and it's likely to be forgotten in years to come. It's not on the same level as a Pixar, Laika or even Dreamworks at their best, but it is much better than it looks and provides lots of laughs for kids and adults.
If you have kids, I would highly recommend that you take them to see this film, and even adults without kids will find enough stuff to keep them entertained for 80 minutes, but it's not essential viewing. At the end of the day, it's better than it has any right to be, and that's more than I can say for just about every film I've seen so far this year.
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]