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Planet 51

Reel rating: 2 out of 5 reels
MPAA rating: PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor
Released in theaters: Nov. 20, 2009
Genre: Animated, family, comedy
Runtime: 91 minutes
Directed by: Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez
Cast: Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Dwayne Johnson, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese

Sex/Nudity: Kiss between teenage boy and girl.

Violence/Gore: Mild. Character is dragged off screen and beaten up by police. Military shooting scene in which no one is hit; characters are then electrocuted. Building blows up, starting a fire that puts characters in peril.

Profanity: A character says “friggin’.”

Which Kids Will Like it? Kids ages 4 and older who like comic book-style alien stories, astronauts and adventure.

Will Parents Like it? Parents may find the campy 1950s alien world cute, but for a so-called comedy, this movie is short on laughs.

Review: When I take my girls to a movie that is specifically aimed at children, I expect to laugh. I expect the film to have plenty of kid-friendly comedy, of course, but I also expect filmmakers to insert bits that will soar directly over my children’s heads, not at all intended to make them laugh but instead directed at the parents in the audience who have been dragged to this movie by their eager children. Some hit the mark (I recently even watched Madagascar on a plane without my children there at all!). Some … not so much. Unfortunately, Planet 51 falls into that latter category.

The film starts with … a film. We see what appears to be a world being blown to bits (including army guys being incinerated by a death ray) thanks to an evil alien invader. We quickly learn, however, that this is actually a sci-fi movie being watched by an 8-year-old kid. An 8-year-old alien kid, complete with green skin, four fingers, no pants and antennae. This kid is a resident of a 1950s utopia a la Hill Valley of Back to the Future fame. It’s all here: “Lollipop” on the jukebox, soda jerks, even an emerging hippie culture of bland dissatisfaction. The town’s rising scientific star is Lem, a happy-go-lucky teen who just scored his dream job at the town’s planetarium by lecturing a visiting class of kids on how the universe is “hundreds of miles wide.” Lem doesn’t at all believe in the Area 51-style secret bunker that his best friend is convinced is real and is filled with alien artifacts. But he’s in for a surprise: A ship piloted by American astronaut Chuck Baker lands in Lem’s backyard after receiving a signal from a Mars Rover housed in this secret bunker.

Here’s where the movie could get interesting: First, how will this astronaut (who must be at least a bit panicked and scared) get over the shock of finding peaceful, human-like, English-speaking aliens? What will he want to learn from them? And how will he communicate what he learns with the rest of the world and then get back to his ship? But that’s not what we get. Instead, we get a cocky U.S. astronaut who’s shockingly cavalier about the fact that he’s just discovered intelligent life outside of Earth. Unlike real astronauts, this guy is no scientist, and he couldn’t care less about learning about the aliens’ lives (socially or biologically), technology or any of that other boring junk. He just sneaks around, hides and can’t wait to get back to his ship so he can make it back to Earth in time for the Kids Choice Awards. Hmph. Meanwhile, the military force, apparently operating under the delusion that the movie mentioned at the opening of the film is real, is trying to hunt down this “alien” and stop his sinister, zombie-creating mission.

Eventually, Baker meets up with Lem and, after an initial mutual fear, they figure out a way to respect and help each other—Lem gain self-confidence, Baker finds a way to get back to his ship and fly off without causing World War III (assuming this alien 1950s world has already survived their own WWI and II).

The flimsy plot wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the movie is just not funny. At all. There are various cutesy little gags that are meant to make kids giggle, but my little ones sat stony-faced throughout, so they weren’t working. So, unless your kids are just in love with aliens, you can definitely skip this one. What’s more, if you have a kid who is easily embarrassed and can’t stand seeing others embarrass themselves (like my 8-year-old, who would spontaneously combust if she was ever forced to watch something like The Office), avoid this movie at all costs. My daughter fidgeted, hid her face and just generally agonized for the entire 91 minutes in the theater.