The best argument for “Escape from Planet Earth,” the latest children’s animated film to roll off Hollywood’s assembly line, is that it’s a mostly painless experience for adults. That’s really all a parent can ask for if they want to take their young kids to the movies more than the two or three times a year that an elite animation house—Pixar, DreamWorks, Ghibli, or LAIKA—comes out with a superior piece of work.
Painlessness aside, there certainly isn’t anything particularly memorable about “Escape from Planet Earth,” which features an archetypical cast of characters and a conventional narrative that each recycle elements from genre hits like “Toy Story” and “Planet 51.” For all his career, alien Gary Supernova (voice of Rob Corddry) has sat behind a mission control deck as his astronaut brother Scorch (Brendan Fraser) hugs the spotlight. But when Scorch is captured on a mission to Earth (“The Dark Planet,” as the aliens call it) by the general who oversees Area 51 (William Shatner), Gary must go into the field to rescue him and… I’m sure you can connect the dots from there.
But even though the movie doesn’t break new ground in any major area, there are enough amusing touches intended for adults that the time passes rather quickly. For instance, an instructional video about humankind that Gary and other aliens are shown upon capture houses some witty satire. A smart-alec robot voiced by Ricky Gervais cleverly feeds off of the actor’s insensitive real-life persona. There’s a funny moment in which we learn that all of today’s biggest technological inventions—Apple, Google, Facebook—were stolen from aliens. Any viewer old enough to recognize these small treats, which are relatively abundant, will forget about them within a few weeks of seeing the movie, but they nonetheless elevate the otherwise mediocre material to a state of tolerableness.
The visuals, dominated by ultra-vivid hues like the electric blue of the Supernova Brothers’ skin, are also pleasant. Director Cal Brunker and his team give the characters’ bodies a distinct kind of comic elasticity that last year’s “Hotel Transylvania” attempted but never got right like this film. The scenery, both intergalactic and earthly, is more detailed and cinematic than one might expect in a production of this budget (a very modest $40 million). However, don’t even think about shelling out extra money for 3-D; not only is the film’s use of stereoscopy pointless, the 3-D version is annoyingly letterboxed inside a larger frame so that a handful of minor effects can be laid over the black bars.
One needn’t look any farther than the movie’s blatant product placement—an entire scene is built around Scorch’s first encounter with 7-Eleven and the Slurpee—to recognize that it was born out of financial motivation, not artistic passion. No one will ever mistake “Escape from Planet Earth” for a Pixar production. But if your kids are bored over the holiday weekend, the movie makes for a perfectly acceptable outing. You certainly won’t risk traumatizing them for life by gouging your eyes out with your car keys, as you considered doing while watching “Space Chimps.”