Planet 51, Lone Astronaut Invades Entire Planet

Charming animated feature produced in Spain features American astronaut *** Three Stars
By Robin Rowe

Planet 51, astronaut Chuck (Dwayne Johnson) surprises aliens

Planet 51, astronaut Chuck (Dwayne Johnson) surprises aliens

HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 11/28/2009 – “They showed me a rough, three-minute scene in which an astronaut lands in the backyard of an alien suburban family, and it completely knocked me out,” says Planet 51 screemwriter Joe Stillman.  “It showed so much…the world of Planet 51, the sense of people in it, an understated acting style, a sense of visual motif, color palate, a really terrific sense of place, and an advanced technical ability.”

Planet 51 is the story of the innocent yet paranoid residents of a far away planet that fears invasion from outer space. When an American astronaut arrives, it’s panic. The film’s voices include Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, and John Cleese. Planet 51 is directed by Jorge Blanco and written by Joe Stillman. Sony TriStar Pictures is distributing Planet 51, produced by Ilion Animation Studios in Spain in association with Handmade Films International. Ilion was formed in 2002 with the goal of making computer-animated feature films.

“Joe says it was love at first sight,” says Ilion Animated Studios CEO Pérez Dolset.  “We had the first meeting, when we presented him with the idea, and Joe immediately packed his suitcases and went off to live on Planet 51. He came back to earth with a story packed with fantastic additional characters, incredible humor, surprises, emotion, and excitement.”

HandMade Films  chairman Guy Collins saw the same three minutes shown to Stillman in the autumn of 2006.  “I thought the quality of the animation in that early stage was exceptional and the story fresh and full of fun,” says Collins, who’d had little previous involvement in CGI movies.  “After we formed our co-venture with Ilion Animation Studios, we started showing film distribution companies around the world small excepts of the film which immediately began to endorse our early view and we have been able to assemble a tremendous group of distributors, promotional partners and licensees.  It has been a thrilling and challenging three years.’

The Planet 51 filmmakers built over 500 unique characters and over 100 different locations. “It was critical to convey Planet 51 as a whole planet,” say Ilion director of technology Gonzalo Rueda. “The depth of content we’ve generated for the movie and the rich details you can see on the big screen make the movie come alive.”

“We were looking for that big idea, something worthy of a feature film,” says Dolset. “Just when we thought it had all been done before, we struck on this.  Alien beings, little green men with antennae on top of their heads, living in fear of human invasion. The classic tale of an alien invasion but seen from a completely different angle.  In an instant, we knew that we’d found our story.”

“It was a perfect fit,” says Planet 51 director Jorge Blanco.  “In 1950s America, the drive-in was king and screen heroes fought invaders from outer-space.  But it was also a time of incredible social paranoia. Pople actually believed that their neighbor could be an undercover agent trying to take over their minds. By setting Planet 51 in that world, we knew we could have the famous 50s icons, but also perfectly fit in the conflict and the fear of the unknown.”

Ilion Animation studios rendered all of Planet 51 using the Animated Pixel renderer Cyclops, creating new software rather than using industry standards like Pixar RenderMan. “With over 500 unique characters, we had to develop several unique custom tools in order to set them up and animate them in a credible way,” says Rueda.  “We generated our proprietary, state-of-the-art facial animation system that presents artists with a simplified interface that allows them to manipulate over 200 character controls in a fast and intuitive fashion.  As a result, they can transmit emotion not only with the main characters, but the background characters as well.”

Planet 51 features a dysfunctional military with even more paranoia than what’s in DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens. It feels a bit out of step with today’s military, that’s perceived as more enlightened or at least more necessary. DreamWorks Animation has long had its own 1950s reverse aliens-get-invaded spoof in development called It Came from Earth, written by Josh Lobis and Darin Moiselle.

Planet 51 astronaut Chuck (Dwayne Johnson) shows the character of a shallow TV personality rather than a brave test pilot. Although making Chuck a buffoon achieves cheap laughs, it could have been more fun if he behaved more like a real astronaut, with skill and intelligence. Then all his special training could come humorously to naught, from his lack of training how to handle a civilized planet. That would have put the film on more levels, offered more for adults.

Planet 51 will definitely appeal to kids. With it’s theme of idiot space commander, Planet 51 is more like Space Chimps. With smarter comedy it could have felt more like The Incredibles, the Pixar fish out of water story. Still, Planet 51 is great fun. The animation looks superb. It’s an amazing film in the context that this is Ilion’s first film.

Planet 51

Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date:  November 20th, 2009 (USA)

MPAA Rating: PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor.

Distributor: Sony Pictures

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