Though it’s probably never been more popular, animation as an artform is truly on life support. The studios, sensing that anything with CG anthropomorphized beings means infinite box office returns, have decided that quality no longer matters. Instead, we wind up with recycled ideas, overdone designs, and a formula that, when it flies, leads to likeability (and lines at the Cineplex). When it doesn’t however, no one really seems to care. Parents still want their electronic babysitters while the wee ones whine for more and more of the mediocre pop culture pabulum passing itself off as entertainment.
Such a strategy explains Escape from Planet Earth in a nutshell. This is a movie made by cartoon committee, a “been there, done that” excuse for amusement which sees bright colors and silly shapes endlessly darting around the screen to keep Junior and his baby sister sedate for an hour. With a development history that has The Weinstein Company’s Hell written all over it (the production dates back to 2007) and a resulting collection of rewrites that have clearly sapped the storyline of anything remotely clever or witty, we wind up with another in a long line of limited return realities, a movie that probably would never have been made had there not been a built in audience ready to sop up its staleness and pay out the Pampers.
A couple of aliens named Scorch (Brendan Fraser) and Gary (Rob Corrdry) work for BASA on Planet Baab. The former is an intergalactic hot head and hero. The latter is a bureaucrat for their world’s space program. When Scorch is sent to Earth on a secret mission, his nephew Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit) can’t wait to hear what happens. When his uncle is captured by a ruthless human General (William Shatner) working in Area 51, the extraterrestrial boy wants to go after him. Unfortunately, it’s his dad Gary who ends up on rescue duty. He quickly discovers that Scorch is actually being tricked by a former BASA head honcho named Lena (Jessica Alba) who’s allied with the Earthlings and wants to help them obtain the rare cosmic chemical blutonium to use in their new, high tech toys.
And so we have the same old story (innocent creatures being captured by unruly enemies) gussied up in tired ET garb. Like similarly styled movies such as Space Chimps, Planet 51, and Monsters vs. Aliens, we are offered a conspiracy theorist’s version of UFOs merged with the whole Ice Age/Madagascar school of action and slapstick. Oddball entities crash and smash into each other, bug-eyed sprites lighting up the screen with their otherwise unnecessary presence. No attempt at invention. Nothing new in the way of angle or approach. All director Cal Brunker does is keep the plot points popping, hoping no one will really notice that it’s yarn spinning without a character to really cheer for.
Sure, Scorch and Gary are good-natured… things, and we all know why Kip is included (gotta have something the anklebiters can identify with), but they are all vacant and empty, filled with riffs and quasi-comedic gags and that’s all. For his part, Shatner tries to uses his typical lunatic line readings to enliven his scenes, but it doesn’t work. General Shanker is too generic to truly stand out as an express eccentricity. As for the rest of the cast, they claim their pay and perform admirably. Their solid service keeps a failure from flopping outright.
Still, Escape from Planet Earth is awfully mediocre. It’s nothing more than a profit margin placeholder for those without the creativity or the caring to make something truly special.
The Blu-ray/DVD includes 3D and standard versions of the film. Extras include a commentary track, deleted scenes, and some making-of footage.