We here at Animated Views were some of the earliest advocates for Hoodwinked — a low budget film that based on the trailers looked to be a disaster with its subpar animation, but turned out to have a great story, fun characters, and a top-notch voice cast. A few years later we were surprised by Delgo, another film that based on the advertising appeared to be a flop but impressed with a weighty plot and beautiful animation. Unfortunately, not all movies that look to be duds turn out to be gems. Doogal and Mars Needs Moms are recent examples. So the best a filmgoer can do when going into a movie like Escape From Planet Earth is to do so with an open mind and hope for a diamond in the rough.

Scorch Supernova is the most famous adventurer, explorer, and rescuer on Planet Baab. While Scorch has the courage and the skills, it’s his brother Gary back at mission control who is the real brains behind the hero. When an SOS is received from the “Dark Planet” — a planet so dangerous no one has ever returned from it — Gary tries to convince his brother not to go. But Scorch believes there is nothing he can’t do and says he’ll complete the mission without his brother’s help. He’s immediately captured, of course, and it’s up to Gary to leave the safety of his computer desk and travel to the mysterious planet of Earth to save his brother.

The basic storyline in Escape From Planet Earth is actually pretty good. Kids especially will probably think reversing the rescue mission to aliens escaping Earth to be be a cool twist. But for the most part this is a by the books plot with no real surprises for anyone over the age of 18. That’s not necessarily bad. The story moves along well, with no boring or should-have-been-deleted scenes that grind things to a halt. The action is fun and well done. And there are a good number of laughs to be had. But nothing in the story really stands out. You won’t be talking about the plot days later or even probably on the car ride home.

While the story ranged from good to serviceable, there were a few other quibbles I had. I know at this point I’ve lost the battle, but the requisite bodily function jokes are there. There were a few odd jokes around political issues like global warming and “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Does the military always have to be the bad guys in kids cartoons these days? And strangest of all, the moral message of this film seemed to be turned on its head. I was expecting from the beginning for Scorch to learn that being smart and thinking things through is a good thing. But no, the message is taught to Gary and it is sometimes you have to stop thinking and just act. That may be true, but of the two which is the better one to teach children first?

Where the movie shines is in its design. Colors pop off the screen. The characters are wonderfully unique. Their home world is fantastically alien. And clever sight gags abound. Earth itself pales in comparison — not because they didn’t do a good job animating it, but just because our world is so bland in comparison. If you’re into the art of animation seeing this on the big screen was the way to go. I passed on the 3D version. But even though 3D is usually darker than 2D versions, I’d bet this film works well in that format.

It seems animated films from smaller production companies always tend to fill their voice casts with a large number of big stars, usually to their detriment I’ve always thought. But I assume if you don’t have Disney or DreamWorks or Pixar above your film title you think you need the marketing push provided by lots of celebrities. Rob Corddry as Gary and Brendan Fraser as Scorch give solid performances as the leads. And William Shatner as General Shanker was kind of fun. But everyone else in this film probably could have been replaced with a professional voice actor or even a celebrity who would have worked for less with no drop in quality. In fact several roles would have been better. Ricky Gervais was an interesting choice for the computer voice but lost its novelty quickly. Jane Lynch as a one eyed alien named Io was wasted for so small a part. Sofía Vergara as Gabby Babblebrock was just a completely wrong casting choice. And George Lopez joins Jimmy Fallon on my list of people to be blacklisted from doing any more animated films!

Low budget usually means low expectations. But when your guard is down sometimes you can be more easily surprised. Escape From Planet Earth isn’t out of this world. But it’s no black hole either.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Escape From Planet Earth
Rainmaker Entertainment
February 15, 2013
89 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Cal Brunker