'Escape from Planet Earth' is a sophomoric exercise that gives animation a bad name
Escape from Planet Earth The Weinstein Company
Director: Cal Brunker
Screenplay: Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen
Starring: The voices of Rob Corddry, Brendan Fraser, William Shatner, Sarah Jessica Parker,
Jonathan Morgan Heit, Sofia Vergara, Jessica Alba, Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch and Ricky
Rated PG / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened February 15, 2013
(out of four)
Escape from Planet Earth may seem harmless enough, what with its cheerful colors and kid-friendly humor. The preponderance of rocket ships, laser guns and aliens may even sound
appealing - a promise of adventure! You might think, upon seeing this 95-minute barrage of
noise and movement, that it's an innocuous enough diversion, nothing particularly good but
nothing particularly egregious, either.
Do not be fooled!
In fact, this is exactly the type of movie that gives animation a bad name. Even now, despite a
long and documented history of great artistry from Disney to Warner Bros. to Ghibli to Pixar to
Aardman (among others), there are plenty who still write off animated films as nothing more
than kids' stuff. The prevalence of that point of view has always bothered me, but what bothers
me even more is a film that validates it, which is exactly what makes Escape from Planet Earth
No effort was wasted on trying to make this a real movie. No, the filmmakers had their target
audience in mind - the 8-and-under brigade - and pandered exclusively to that demographic.
The result exemplifies the difference between an animated movie and a cartoon. If this is what
The Weinstein Company's new animation department is going for, then they've chosen to be
The frustrating thing is how unnecessary this approach is. Countless movies have been able to be
genuinely good on normal terms, while still appealing wholeheartedly to children. As far as I can
tell, the only motivation in going solely for the latter is laziness.
Helmed by first-time feature director Cal Brunker and co-written by Brunker and Bob Barlen,
Escape centers around two brothers with diametrically opposed personalities - Scorch
Supernova (voiced by Brendan Fraser), a brash, reckless thrill-seeker; and his older, diminutive
brother Gary (Rob Corddry), who's risk-averse and by-the-book. (I'll let you take a wild guess
about his character arc.) The two work for BASA - their home planet of Baab's answer to our
space program - with Gary manning every mission from the control room and Scorch taking all
the glory out in the field, rescuing alien babies, thwarting pending attacks, saving the galaxy, etc.
Gary's son, Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit),
idolizes Scorch and is frustrated by his dad's relentless caution and overprotectiveness. (I'll let
you guess his character arc, too.) The brother-to-brother dynamic is working just fine, until one
day they get an order from their boss, Lena (Jessica Alba), to attempt a dangerous mission on
Earth - or, "the Dark Planet" - from which no alien has ever returned.
While Scorch takes the new assignment completely in stride - seemingly impervious to any
sense of worry - Gary insists it's too dangerous and refuses to go along with it, dramatically
quitting after an emotional argument with his foolhardy younger brother. But after Scorch gets
kidnaped by a power-hungry military general named Shanker (William Shatner) at Area 51,
Gary, bound by a sense of familial duty, rockets to the dark planet to save the day.
The set-up is all well and good, but Brunker and Barlen fail to ignite the proceedings with much
of anything beyond what you'd get on a Saturday morning cartoon. The visuals aren't bad, per se
- it's just standard computer animation, colorful but neither unique nor interesting. Just . . . fine.
More bothersome is the restless sense of pace. This is one of those movies that feels the need to
be in a state of constant motion - basically, filmmaking for the ADD set. So we get scene after
chaotic scene of fundamentally arbitrary action, giving us a false sense of traction for a story that
really has none. Lots of flying, lots of running, lots of throwing, lots of fast cutting, lots of . . . I
don't know, zooming? If zooming is a thing, this movie does it. A lot.
The filmmakers don't understand the difference between "story and action" and "lots of things
happening on screen." They choose the second option, an attempt to convince us that this lifeless
and dull movie actually has a pulse. It doesn't, and I think they know it, too.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of animated movies like this bouncing around. Let's hope
they don't do too much damage to the reputation of all the great animation out there.