Sunday, February 7, 2016

An escape to Planet OK-sville

"Escape From Planet Earth": Not great, but there have been worse animated films from the Weinsteins.
"Escape From Planet Earth": Not great, but there have been worse animated films from the Weinsteins. Weinstein Co.

If you're a parent, chances are you've seen worse animated films than Escape From Planet Earth. Mostly, one might add, from the same studio that released this one.

But Earth is something of a giant - OK, mini-giant - leap forward for the Weinstein Co. It's not much funnier than most of its earlier fare. But at least it's not as ugly as Hoodwinked, Doogal, and the rest.

Reaching that Space Chimps/Planet 51 level of good-looking mediocrity is an achievement. Pop the champagne!

The blue aliens of Baab have this Buzz Lightyear-style hero, "Scorch," a space rescuer-hero whose adventures are covered by live video feed from wherever in the universe he is sent. Scorch is all bravado and swagger and catchphrase.

"Scorch me, baby!"

He's a regular rock star - and a bit of a dope. He is voiced by Brendan Fraser.

Dopey Scorch always has his mild-mannered tech-nerd brother Gary (Rob Corddry) back at Mission Control, pulling his blue biscuits out of the fire. Until that day that the egotistical Scorch "fires" Gary.


Same diff. This happens just as Scorch leaves on a mission to the "Dark Planet," the place where aliens - even those who "come in peace" - disappear. Which is what Scorch does, right in front of the 7-Eleven on the outskirts of Area 51. Yes, the Dark Planet is our own - Earth.

Gary's gung-ho son and ex-test-pilot wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) shame him into attempting a rescue. Meanwhile, Scorch is discovering that the team of screenwriters has plagiarized Monsters vs. Aliens and that Area 51 is a vast holding pen where Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch (naturally), and George Lopez voice other imprisoned aliens, and William Shatner is the creepy general in charge.

The gags that work in this thing are mostly visual. Ricky Gervais voices a computer who uses old black-and-white movie and news footage to show the perils of the Dark Planet - "The only known world where evolution is taking place in reverse."

Gervais does some riffing, and since Stephen Fry's name appears on the long list of writing credits, perhaps he helped the lad out.

The animation is what sells Escape From Planet Earth, rich, textured surfaces. Check out the fishnet webbing on Scorch's space suit, the paint worn off the hardware, and the perfectly rendered 7-Eleven, where even the Slurpee (product placement in a cartoon?) shimmers like the real thing.

It's not worth paying 3D prices - 3D is for suckers, especially when it comes to kids' animation.

Years in development, rewritten to death according to the lawsuit some of those involved filed against the Weinsteins, and not funny, to boot - not a ringing endorsement. But unlike say, Doogal or Hoodwinked 2, at least you won't want to gouge your eyes out after this one.

Escape From Planet Earth ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Cal Brunker. With the voices of Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rob Corddry, William Shatner, George Lopez. Distributed by Kaleidoscope TWC.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (action and some mildly rude humor)

Playing at: Area theaters

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