It’s taken just over a year for “Escape From Planet Earth” to open in the UK after its debut in the USA but has it been worth the wait? It’s the first theatrical release from Canadian animation outfit Rainmaker Entertainment, the studio behind “Beast Wars: Transformers” and those interminable straight to DVD “Barbie” movies.
The core of the story is a neat idea, turning the whole alien abduction idea on its head and look at the situation from the aliens’ point of view. It opens with the adventures of planet Baab’s greatest hero Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) as he completes a mission to rescue some babies from a crashed spaceship. The mission is narrated by Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry), Scorch’s meeker older brother who works unheralded in Mission Control, keeping Scorch alive with quick thinking and intelligence. When the BASA (Baab Aeronautic & Space Administration) chief Lena (Jessica Alba) sends Scorch on a rescue mission to Earth, Gary objects because no alien race has ever returned from attempting peaceful contact. When Scorch arrives on Earth, he’s quickly captured by the villainous General Shanker (William Shatner) and it’s up to Gary to try to rescue him. There are some nifty ideas introduced here, such as the idea that all recent technological advances such as the iPod and social networking have been based on enslaved alien labour (possibly an attempt at a little bit of social commentary?) but in the end, the movie goes for a lazier story about power and conquest. The fresh twist it brings to the table is universal genocide. Seriously: the bad guy’s ultimate aim is to purge the universe of every other alien species one by one, which is kind of dark for a disposable children’s cartoon like this.
To contrast the darkness of the theme, the film’s design is bright, cute and appealing. The aliens held imprisoned by Shanker at Area 51 are a clichéd but likeably oddball bunch voiced by Jane Lynch, George Lopez and Craig Robinson, who comes close to stealing the film as loveable big-eared alien rodent Doc. Gary’s wife is voiced by Sarah Jessica Parker and Sofia Vergara makes a vocal appearance as Scorch’s would-be girlfriend, Baam news reporter Gabby Babblebrook. The only part of the casting which confuses is the utterly unbelievable idea that an advanced alien race would develop a sentient, interactive computer system and then choose to give it the voice of Ricky Gervais.
Beyond the character design, though, the movie struggles to get past the mediocre. For a galaxy spanning adventure, it really only takes place in two small locations: Baab Mission Control and Area 51. The story is thin and predictable, the script bland and while the film stays true to its aliens’ point of view by giving the faceless human guards no character development, it doesn’t exactly provide much in the way of growth or change for the characters we’re meant to care about. The plot moves through the motions in a very linear fashion and any jeopardy which is established is quickly and easily resolved. The Mertmas quite enjoyed it though and while I think he’ll have forgotten about it in a few weeks’ time, it’s bright and colourful enough that it should pass muster for anyone under ten and be tolerable for anyone older. With a stronger story and clearer core values, in the hands of Dreamworks or Pixar, this could have been something a bit special. As it is, it’s an adequate way to pass an hour and a half if you have nothing better to do.