A lightweight, warp-speed, brightly colored trifle that should delight small children and sporadically amuse their parents, “Escape from Planet Earth” is the sort of second-tier animated action-comedy that can tide over family auds during the gaps between more heavily hyped big-ticket items. Given the recent dearth of similar fare in megaplexes, the Weinstein Co. could generate respectable B.O. coin before profitably launching on home-screen platforms. Pic opened with a strong $16.1 million.
The scenario by helmer Cal Brunker and co-scripter Bob Barlen is shamelessly derivative but modestly clever, predictably loaded with wink-wink pop-culture references while energetically extolling the virtue of family ties as, quite literally, a universal concept.
On Baab, a planet populated by an advanced civilization of Smurfy blue entities, Scorch Supernova (voiced with mucho macho swagger by Brendan Fraser) is widely renowned as an interplanetary adventurer whose heroic exploits are the stuff of legend (and the inspiration for commercial tie-ins).
But when he’s captured during a rescue mission on the dreaded “Dark Planet” (i.e., Earth), it’s up to Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry), Scorch’s brainy-nerd brother employed at mission control, to blast into space, save his sibling and, not incidentally, earn the respect of his Scorch-worshipping young son, Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit).
Like many previous sci-fi mashups, animated and otherwise, “Escape From Planet Earth” plays fast and loose with the Area 51 mythos. In this case, the super-secret installation is where the megalomaniacal Gen. Shanker (William Shatner, clearly enjoying himself) has been inventing high-tech products and procedures – like cell phones, the Internet and computer-generated animation — with the help of extraterrestrials who came to Earth in peace, but were pressed into service as slave labor.
Scorch and Gary are only the latest additions to the brain trust Shanker has assembled in the hope of building a weapon capable of blasting entire planets into space debris. But Shanker also is relying on help from a turncoat back on Baab: Lena (Jessica Alba), a mission-control chief who’s fallen for the general after a long-distance online romance.
Brunker paces the pic for preteen attention spans, and gives young Kip more than enough derring-do to do so members of the target audience can easily identify with the character. Moms, too, can savor a bit of fantasy fulfillment as Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) — Kip’s mother, Gary’s wife — plays her own important role in saving the day.
Vocal talents — including Jane Lynch and George Lopez as other Area 51 inventor-prisoners, and Ricky Gervais as the voice of the mission-control computer — are well cast across the board. Trouble is, it’s difficult for even the standouts to dispel the sense that “Escape From Planet Earth” spends a great deal of time recycling stock characters. Even the robust Fraser is hard-pressed to make Scorch come off as anything more than a Buzz Lightyear clone.
On the plus side, the pic aims some of its humor at grown-up viewers, and scores with sly allusions to ’50s sci-fi thrillers and educational films. Indeed, one of the funnier moments involves a revival screening of the original “It Came From Outer Space” at a drive-in; in that 1953 classic, the 3D visual effects were quite impressive. In this movie, not so much.