In an early scene in the movie, super cool and super stupid Scorch Supernova makes his way to a Seven Eleven. Attracted like a bug to the bright fluorescent lights, Scorch goes into superhero mode when he sees a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man wildly wiggling in the wind. Sure that the helium histrionics are cries for help, the blue faced alien tries to speak with it by copying the wavering gestures. When evil Feds appear and pop the rubber advertisement, the extra-terrestrial looks up to the camera and screams “Nooo!” while gyrating his arms to the Heavens. If you find this amusing, you’re probably under 12 and you’re going to love Escape from Planet Earth.
Directed by Cal Brunker, Escape from Planet Earth marks The Weinstein Company’s first major animated family film. Once the province of only the House of Mouse and DreamWorks, computer animation has been spreading like wildfire since Universal’s Despicable Me (2010) showed that others would make a fortune doing it too. The film is also the product of Rainmaker Entertainment whose last two films were Barbie: The Princess and the Pop Star (2012) and Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 (2012); one presumably features Barbie as a pop star and the other as a mermaid…ruh-roh. But wait! The studio once, long ago, spearheaded the cult classic series ReBoot (1994-2001). Perhaps, with this being their first true theatrical film, Escape from Planet Earth can be a return to form?
Gary Supernova (Robb Corddry) has problems. Despite being the head of Mission Control at BASA on the planet Baab, the bigheaded guy has more reasons to be blue than his skin complexion. His brother Scorch (Brendan Fraser) is the astronaut icon who the entire planet fawns over and adores. He gets all the credit for the missions Gary carefully guides him through and earns the hero worship of Gary’s son, Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit). Wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) tells Gary that their son is just going through a phase and to ignore his anger over Scorch’s inconsiderate nature. One day, as Scorch is preparing for his suicide mission to the “Dark Planet” (Earth), he finally tells Gary off as being insignificant and unimportant. With the brothers feuding, Scorch goes alone to the planet from which no alien has returned and, sure enough, is soon captured by the villainous American General Shanker (William Shatner).
With Scorch in trouble, Gary reluctantly aliens up and travels to Earth to find a whole nest of otherworldly aliens trapped in Area 51. With their help, he intends to stop the evil Shanker and free the dimwitted Scorch from a prison created by his own stupidity. Too bad they can’t liberate this movie from its own.
If you could deduce from the above actor names, Escape from Planet Earth follows the Jeffrey Katzenberg/DreamWorks Animation school of thought. Cast as many big (or semi-big) name celebrities as your coffers can allow and make sure the adults know that they’re in it. My synopsis does not even include Jessica Alba as a thankless, secondary alien villain who outer space Carrie Bradshaw gets to stop with the help of Kip. Nor did I mention the not one, BUT THREE cracking wise cute sidekicks for Gary to team up with. Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson and George Lopez voice these supposedly funny guys. They even randomly squeeze Sofia Vergara into it for five seconds.
Those inclusions operate under the assumption that well known celebrity voices will entertain the parents who earnestly brought their kids to a cartoon show. It originates from the Robin Williams in Aladdin (1992) mold, but has mostly come to define DreamWorks’ catalogue, including Shrek (2001), Madagascar (2005) and Megamind (2010). However, it only is clever and amusing to adults if the stunt casting contributes something only older audiences can enjoy. Unfortunately in Escape from Planet Earth, they are here almost solely for the name recognition. Robinson, Lynch and Lopez are great comedic talents, but are wasted as characters who create food fights and act like your generic, obnoxious side characters found in far too many kids movies. The worst sin is they got Ricky Gervais to voice a machine in this film. I can only speculate, but they must have waved a paycheck with a lot of zeroes in front of him as he was passing across a studio lot on his way out for the day and he only had 10 minutes to spare. Getting a great comedic force in your film and giving him nothing but a few banal one liners is like casting Al Pacino to play the self satisfied white male in the newest Lexus commercial. What a wasted opportunity.
Visually, the film is very bright and harmless enough. It features some generic and barely noticeable 3D because all family films after James Cameron’s Avatar o do so. And the aliens are blue with big puppy dog eyes because…all alien films after James Cameron’s Avatar have to do so. Generally, the inhabitants of Baab look the same with large blue faces and round eyes. The women have a small blob of color on their heads that’s supposed to pass for hair and signify gender to the audience. Otherwise, they’re indistinguishable. The space travel and action animation is eye-catchingly fun and all the weird one off creatures trapped at Area 51 show a little more imagination. The design of the movie is all well and good, but at the end of the day, it has to be in service to the story.
The overall path of the movie is standard squabbling siblings affair. The villains, provided by Shatner and Alba, are only simple obstacles to overcome on the trip toward fraternal reconciliation. Which is fine. Nobody is demanding massive plot twists in a kids’ movie. However, is it too much to make us care? The character beats are rushed through and only noticeable from the passing of substandard pop songs tacked on in post. Neither brother is very likable. Fraser’s Scorch comes off as a really, really douchey version of Buzz Lightyear and Gary is so indecisive that he makes the Prince of Elsinore look brash and foolhardy. The comedic slapstick will likely work for kids, but Scorch doing MJ’s moonwalk or Gary playing Bérénice Bejo from 2011’s The Artist feel really forced and more bizarre than witty. Also, on a side note, I suspect it was easy getting TWC to release the musical rights from that little French silent film that could, but I wonder how many parents will even get that adult joke when so few adults (or otherwise) saw the movie. Did Harvey not want to pay Dick Dale again to reuse “Misirlou” from Pulp Fiction for the umpteenth time?
Anyway, Escape from Planet Earth is completely generic and standard family movie fare. There are those who will likely accuse me of being too harsh on such an inoffensive film and believe that one should be more lenient on a movie meant to be enjoyed by children. But must we really have such low standards for our kids’ entertainment? In the era of Pixar, something this ho hum and completely devoid of ambition cannot be greeted with open arms for distracting the little ones for 90 minutes. We should be able to ask for something more for their sake as well as ours. It may be called Escape from Planet Earth, but all the parents will be thinking about is escaping from the theater.