Dir: Cal Brunker. US. 2013. 89mins
A hollow centre, in the form of a decided lack of ambition, lies underneath the colourful candy shell of Escape From Planet Earth, a peppy and at times downright manic animated adventure that eschews much in the way of substance in serving up a familiar story that will connect best with undemanding family audiences and younger viewers. Unremittingly bland conflict and stock characterisations mar what could have been the much more cleverly executed concept of a bunch of desperate aliens who band together to foil the power-grab of a military general gone mad, and get off of an uncivilised Earth.
The film’s animation style is second-tier, lacking the attention to background detail of Pixar’s efforts.
Animated movies are of course big business, but it’s hard to envision Escape From Planet Earth mustering enough positive word-of-mouth to carve out a franchise beachhead. Instead, the movie should realise most of its value in ancillary home video markets, where it can dutifully occupy the under-eight set for a while.
The movie opens on the planet Baab, where astronaut Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a master of daring rescues and a national hero to his fellow spindly, blue-hued compatriots. Assisting Scorch on missions is his by-the-rules, danger-averse brother, Gary (Rob Corddry), who works in mission control at the space programme and just wants to provide a nice life for his wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) and son Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit), the latter of whom idolises Scorch.
When space programme chief Lena Thackleman (Jessica Alba) gets word of a situation on Earth, Scorch shrugs off an argument with Gary and bounds off on another mission, this time solo. In short order, however, Scorch is captured by General Shanker (William Shatner), a gruff and power-hungry military man who’s amassed a collection of all sorts of different aliens in the dusty American Southwest, as part of his plan to build a special asteroid gun. Swallowing his considerable nervousness, Gary heads to Earth to break his brother free, and help save the day.
Directed by Cal Brunker, Escape From Planet Earth unfolds as a slap-sticky light-and-noise show, where two seconds of consecutive silence is frowned upon and three unthinkable. The script has a small handful of fun moments, including a silly food fight and a mock-educational filmstrip which assesses Earth as a place of evolution in reverse. But it doesn’t let Scorch and Gary really discover any of their misconceptions about Earth — potentially rich comedic terrain — and the movie’s frenzied tone mostly reflects a lack of trust in its characterisations, which are quite wan.
The film’s animation style is second-tier, lacking the attention to background detail of Pixar’s efforts. While there is a lot of movement within frames, which helps creates an unflagging sense of energy sure to help hold the attention of younger viewers, so much seems left unexplored, both visually and narratively.
The character of Scorch, a cocksure space explorer, is a deep, ahem, homage to Buzz Lightyear of the Toy Story films, and Fraser’s swaggering-himbo vocal turn channels Tim Allen by way of Patrick Warburton. Ricky Gervais provides a few delights as the voice of Gary’s computer assistant, but the movie otherwise leans on its supporting vocal players (including George Lopez, Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch, Sofia Vergara and the aforementioned Shatner) to basically do “bits” that ape the rhythms of their famous voices. If that tack ranges from functional to reductive, it’s at least largely in keeping with the overall tone of this material.
Production companies: GRF Productions, Rainmaker Entertainment
Domestic distribution: The Weinstein Company
Producers: Catherine Winder, Luke Carroll, Brian Inerfeld
Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Radenko Milakovic, Marvin Peart, Tony Leech
Co-executive producers: George Tsvetanski, Ivan Bajic, Phillip Glasser, Jinko Gotoh
Associate producer: Rodney Shealey
Screenplay: Bob Barlen & Cal Brunker, based on a story by Cory Edwards and Tony Leech
Cinematography: Matthew A. Ward
Production designer: Barry Jackson
Editors: Matthew Landon, Scott Winlaw
Animation director: Adam Wood
Music: Aaron Zigman
Main cast: Brendan Fraser, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Jessica Alba, Chris Parnell, William Shatner, Steve Zahn, George Lopez, Jane Lynch, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sofia Vergara, Ricky Gervais, James Corden