“Planet 51” plays like it was written by a team of marketers. It is ripe with all the stuff adults think kids love. Cuddly aliens? Check. Slapstick humor? Check. A cute robot that kind of looks like WALL-E but not really? Check. Silly adult characters? Check. The only thing missing is a good story.
Set on an alien world where it rains rocks and the 1950s are in full bloom—imagine a high tech “Happy Days” and you get the idea of the look of the film—the story doesn’t really take flight until dimwitted astronaut Charles T. Barker (voice of The Rock) lands, thinking he is on an uninhabited planet. His plan is to plant an American flag, knock around some golf balls and return home a national hero. Instead he discovers a planet full of “sea monkeys dancing to the oldies.” Most of the green-skinned inhabitants of the planet don’t quite know what to make of him either. The only knowledge they have of life from other planets comes from their sci fi movies. They believe he’s a “humaniac” with two sets of teeth that has arrived on their planet to harvest their organs and turn the citizens of Planet 51 into zombies. Barker becomes Public Alien Number One, the most wanted extraterrestrial on the planet. Then he meets Lem (voice of Justin Long), a friendly young Planet 51 astronomer, who may be his only chance to get back to his ship before the autopilot kicks in and returns to Earth without him.
“Planet 51” is aimed directly at ten-and-under crowd, who should enjoy the silly jokes and the colorful pictures, but parents beware, there’s not much here for you. There is the odd throw-a-way line intended for the adults in the audience—a suppository joke and a “What the duck!” double entendre—which may raise a giggle but seem a little out of place when butted up against the kid friendly humor that makes up most of the movie.
The underlying message of tolerance, however, is a good one. It teaches kids that no matter how different we may be there is almost always some middle ground. As I say, good message, I just wish it were wrapped up in a better movie.