Released in mid-February of 2013 — making it just a little under a year old at this writing — Escape From Planet Earth is notable for a couple of firsts. It’s the first film to be directed by Callan Brunker, whose previous work includes storyboarding for animated features 9, Horton Hears a Who, Despicable Me, and the fourth Ice Age movie. It’s also the first theatrical feature for Rainmaker Entertainment — the former Mainframe Entertainment, creators of the first computer-animated TV series, ReBoot. (From what I can see, most of their recent work has been direct-to-video Barbie movies, so this is already a good sign for them branching out a bit.)
While Escape From Planet Earth is far from knocking it out of the park for their first at-bat, it at least indicates that they have the potential to do some solid work in the future.
For example, they’ve got the product placement aspect down pat.
The heroically-named Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is one of the most famous and celebrated individuals on Planet Baab. He’s an astronaut who goes off on adventures, exploring the galaxy and rescuing individuals of his own race and those from other planets. His brother, the somewhat less heroically-named Gary Supernova (Rob Corddry) acts as mission control. Scorch is tall, muscular, brave, and not very bright. Gary is a genius inventor, scrawny, and prone to over-analyzing his options in times of crisis. There is, of course, a lot of sibling rivalry that needs to be worked out through an action/adventure plot, and so Scorch is sent by his superiors on a mission to “the Dark Planet”. Once there, he’s quickly captured, and it’s up to Gary to go and rescue his brother so that they can… well, you know. It’s in the title.
The plot is just complex enough to be interesting. It’s not going to wow any adults in the audience, but it isn’t completely predictable either. We know they’re going to escape from planet Earth, we know the brothers are going to reconcile, but there are a few elements in the opposition that come as minor surprises. Of course, the main opposition is clear almost immediately, with Scorch’s captor, General Shankar — voiced by a very enthusiastic (and unusually continuous) William Shatner. Shankar has been capturing aliens for years and uses them to bolster his own standing by selling their products to the public as new inventions. It’s a different twist on the Area 51 concept, even if it amounts to little in the movie itself other than an excuse to keep the aliens in one place.
The humor in the film is what puts it solidly into kid territory, though. It’s not that the humor is juvenile in the sense of being vulgar or crude (there’s a slime joke with a slug-like alien, but I remember no fart jokes). It’s just that it’s juvenile in the sense of being simplistic. They’re going for the quick and easy laughs here. There are a few lobbied at the adults in the audience, but they largely come in the form of jokes that went stale years ago; for example, at one point General Shankar pulls out a large Elvis wig and Gary quips “Hey, don’t ask, don’t tell.” Even putting aside the question of how Gary would know the reference, the expiration date on that joke was two presidencies ago. There are some good jokes out of Gary’s sarcasm, though, and virtually everything Ricky Gervais says as the voice of the ship computer is good.
And maybe it’s just me, but the Greys serving lunch in the cafeteria is a funny visual.
The film already seems like it’s being forgotten by the public at large. User-edited sections of IMDb (such as quotes) and TVTropes are light on content, and it was passed over by all the major awards. I’ve heard little chatter about it. This isn’t all that surprising. While it’s not a terrible film, it’s also not a very memorable one. It has a few good laughs, and the plot line is reasonably entertaining. The animation is very well done — which, considering the company, it certainly ought to be. There just isn’t anything that really makes it stand out. But it is a hopeful sign for future productions from the company, if they can get a story that’s a little more sharply written.