'Escape from Planet Earth' lacks clever storyline
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 16:02
“Escape from Planet Earth” is the first theatrical release from computer animation company Rainmaker Entertainment, the Canadian studio behind the direct-to-video “Barbie” fairy tale series.
It’s also the third full-length 3D cartoon distributed by the Weinstein Company banner, after the “Hoodwinked!” movies. Development has been ongoing since 2007, culminating with the film opening in the middle of February to a wide release (over 3,000 theaters) but little-to-no significant marketing.
The “Escape from Planet Earth” voice cast includes Rob Corddry (“Warm Bodies”) as Gary Supernova, a resident of the distant planet Baab who works for the organization BASA, which specializes in rescue missions, and is the brains behind his brother Scorch (Brendan Fraser), a dim-witted hunk admired as a lone hero by the blue-skinned public. When Scorch is captured on a notoriously dangerous world known as “The Dark Planet” (spoiler: it’s Earth), his scrawny nerdy sibling must step up and save the day.
In some ways, “Escape from Planet Earth” represents the epitome of junky children’s entertainment. It cynically aims the majority of jokes at adults, stringing together a menagerie of pop culture references and satire that will pass right over the heads of many viewers belonging to the juice box crowd; hence, it does not even qualify for the “It’s meant for kids!” defense. On the other hand, the underlying messages and lessons inherent to the story are worthwhile. The problem is, they are presented in such a muddled and emotionally-unsatisfactory fashion that many a discerning adult will probably struggle to appreciate them (much less, kids still learning to read between the lines of a film’s narrative). Director and co-writer Cal Brunker served as a storyboard artist on “Horton Hears a Who!,” “Despicable Me” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” and you get the feeling he was aiming to tell a tender, funny and meaningful story with his feature-length directing debut.
Indeed, “Escape from Planet Earth” examines the continued importance of the nuclear family structure in the 21st century and how every member of that unit is valuable. However, the majority of the characters are either poorly written or just saddled with flat arcs, with exceptions, such as Gary’s career-woman-turned-stay-at-home-wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker). Meanwhile, the conflict involving Gary’s son Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit) not looking up to his dad because he’s, you know, a nerd, feels outdated and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Part of the reason the story and character elements feel so disorganized and weak can be chalked up to seven different writers landing credit on the movie (including Brunker), while a lawsuit filed by the story co-writer Tony Leech and producer Brian Inerfeld asserts the Weinsteins forced 17 rewrites on the script total. That also explains why the editing feels so choppy (with pop song excerpts often stuck in uncomfortably here and there), while the humor includes weird targets like the Best Picture-winner “The Artist” – which was distributed by the Weinstein Company, no coincidence – and the Beatles, along with other gags that most adults should find too lame to enjoy (and kids will neither understand nor care about).
The supporting cast is rounded out by “Star Trek” icon William Shatner, Jessica Alba (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”), Craig Robinson (“The Office”), Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”), Jane Lynch (“Glee”) and comedians George Lopez and Ricky Gervais. Much like the main cast members, their performances are fine but cannot overcome being attached to uninteresting characters. Similarly, the computer animation fails to compensate for shortcomings elsewhere; it’s not all that expressive, nor are the various designs and backgrounds fitting caricatures of reality (and the 3D effect is negligible, save for a scene or two). This isn’t even close to the quality of Pixar or DreamWorks.
However, at the end of the day, all of these flaws would be more forgivable if the film offered better fun for younger viewers and presented its themes in a coherent manner. As it stands, though, “Escape from Planet Earth” isn’t the sort of movie that will please either parents or their kids beyond serving as a mindless distraction for a couple of hours.