Sixteen-year-old Lem (Justin Long) lives on Planet 51, a white picket-fenced world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America. He is happy in his safe, predictable world and spends his time daydreaming about running the local planetarium and dating the girl next door, Neera (Jessica Biel).
One day out of the blue and millions of miles from his own planet, astronaut Captain Charles 'Chuck' Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands his spaceship in Neera's backyard, right in the middle of a family barbecue! Unaware of his surroundings, he disembarks the ship reveling in his Big Moment. He plants his flag triumphantly and turns... only to find Planet 51's green-skinned inhabitants staring back at him bemused! He panics and flees, finding refuge quite by chance in the planetarium where Lem works.
When Lem and Chuck meet, they gradually overcome their mutual fear and strike up a friendship. Lem agrees to hide Chuck from the paranoid Planet 51 Army who are determined to capture the alien within their midst, convinced he is out to destroy them. But all Chuck wants to do is reach his spacecraft before it returns to Earth without him! So with the help of Lem and his friends, a pair of not-so-bright Planet 51 soldiers, and an excitable but trusty explorer robot, Rover, Chuck and the gang race to reach his spaceship before it's too late...
Stepping out of his spacecraft, Chuck the Astronaut slowly walks down a dirt path in his space suit, ready to plant an American flag on a new planet. He's stunned when he is instead greeted by the surprised faces of green people living in the suburbs, grilling up hamburgers. After this opening sequence it's hard not to wonder, what in the world was Chuck looking at when his spacecraft was touching down? Did he not see the houses and perfectly manicured grass? As a matter of fact, if humans are able to travel through space to other planets billions of miles away, then it would be reasonable to surmise that they would also have the ability to tell if an entire planet was inhabited by an alien race living in cities and human-like houses, right? Sadly, this film isn't that smart.
'Planet 51' has taken a setup with a ton of promise and completely squandered it in order to produce a dull, unfunny, uninteresting cartoon full of ridiculous mayhem and flat-lined jokes. After Chuck (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lands, he's immediately hunted down by the planet's military, because here humans are the aliens, and the green people have it in their heads that humans will eat their brains.
Chuck soon meets up with friendly Lem (voiced by Justin Long) who helps him try and escape the clutches of the evil General Grawl (voiced by Gary Oldman). Lem informs Chuck that they too speak English on this distant planet, what luck! They do, however, for some ridiculous reason, end up misreading a Twix wrapper dropped by Chuck. Yes this is the type of intelligence on display here. Also, for some reason that is never really made clear, this alien world may actually be stuck in a 1950s time warp. The many odd similarities between American Earth Culture and this culture are just astounding.
Adults will be bored with this movie. Movies like 'Up' and 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' can be enjoyed by adults and children alike since they work on multiple levels. Kids, well they'll probably love it, but not as much as the Pixar films. I'm a firm believer that even kids can tell a slight difference between a colorfully animated movie with a solid story as opposed to a colorfully animated movie with a moronic one. Sadly I didn't have my niece and nephew here to screen this one with me as I often do with many of the other children-centric titles I review, but I think I'm safe in saying that kids will enjoy 'Planet 51' enough to keep them occupied for an hour or so.
Here's the dilemma, 'Planet 51' by all accounts is a boring, badly written, and terribly executed film, which haphazardly tries to attract adults with its odd 50s references, but I think in the end kids will enjoy it. They'll enjoy the slapstick violence and energetic chase scenes. They'll love the alien that acts like a dog, but has acid-like pee that erodes whatever it urinates on. They'll drool over the shiny bright colors and the alien people who look as if they've all been created in a Play-Doh machine and then had unripe bananas stuck to their heads for hair. My point is, kids will want to watch this over and over, and if you're getting it for your kids then it's probably a good call. The problem may arise if you have to repeatedly watch it with them, as you may find yourself wishing you were one billion miles away, stabbing yourself in the head with an unripe banana.
As is to be expected with a modern CG film, the video presentation appears to be pretty much perfect. 'Planet 51's 1080p/AVC encoded transfer is a near flawless presentation of bright colors and detailed animation. While I'm personally not a fan of the animation of the aliens with their extremely unexpressive mouths, technically this film looks like a CG animated film should. Colors are all perfectly rendered. They may even be pumped up the slightest bit for kids. There are no digital artifacts or anomalies to report. It's shiny, colorful, and slick. It looks great in HD and contains that same 3D depth and feel seen in Pixar films.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack accompanying 'Planet 51' is nicely constructed, offering an encompassing sound field, but it isn't overly irritating to adult ears (except for the actual "jokes" of course). This audio presentation is more than enough to keep the kids entertained for the duration of its runtime. Dialogue is clearly intelligible through the center speaker. Panning effects, like helicopters whirling around in the sky (yes, even aliens fly in helicopters) smoothly transition from speaker to speaker giving a very natural sound to everything going on. LFE is constantly present during intense chase scenes and numerous explosions. While this isn't the absolutely immersive, bombastic experience you get from a movie like 'Monster's Inc.' it's still a presentation that will keep the kids more than entertained, and that's really all you can ask for from a title like this.
So, as a parent you'll be bored stiff. This is one of those films you put on as an electronic babysitter, and not so much as a way to spend some quality family time with your kids. Both the audio and video are impressive and will likely keep children entertained for the duration. But, the question is, why would you have your kids watch this when they could easily watch a much superior animated film like 'Up,' or the upcoming 'Fantastic Mr. Fox?' Rent it first and see how the kids react. There's just no reason to own this.