Making the Grades
Life is suddenly disrupted for the residents of Planet 51 when a NASA astronaut lands his space capsule right in the middle of one family’s backyard. And it appears that these inhabitants are just as worried about being taken over by "aliens" as we are.
Considering Captain Charles "Chuck" Baker’s (voice by Dwayne Johnson) shocked reaction to the locals during their first meeting, it is difficult to convince them that he is friendly. Try as he might, he can’t change their preconceived ideas about extraterrestrials and so he is forced to hide when the planet’s military commander, General Grawl (voice by Gary Oldman), and his army initiate a house-by-house search for the visitor. Luckily before he is caught, Chuck meets Lem (voice by Justin Long), a teen who agrees to let the fugitive hide out in his bedroom until they can find a way to get to the rocket.
Their plan gets complicated when Lem’s younger brother Eckle (voice by Freddie Benedict) and Lem’s friend Skiff (voice by Seann William Scott) both barge into the teen’s room and discover the concealed astronaut. After convincing the boys that the visitor is safe, Lem engages them to help find a way to sneak past the heavily armed soldiers that are barricading Chuck’s mode of transportation.
Making humans the aliens in this film offers a fun and fresh perspective for audiences though these interplanetary citizens are just as quick as Earthlings to greet their guests with drawn guns and other weapons. They seem equally suspicious of anyone who is different.
Produced by Ilion Animation Studios in Madrid, Spain, the film incorporates some European-style humor into the storyline and offers a pacing that is frequently different from the usual North American animation. As well, the production references a number of classic space movies, many of which may be unfamiliar to the younger crowd, and maybe even their parents.
While the film’s English language star, Dwayne Johnson, is gaining a reputation for his roles in family-friendly films like Race to Witch Mountain and The Game Plan, he is barely recognizable as he voices the overly confident, redheaded American who gives Lem some tips on how to impress women. (The scene contains a brief but strong veiled sexual reference when Lem’s friends misinterpret the lesson. Later the characters comment on Chuck’s male anatomy when the astronaut is disrobed in front of them.) Failing to capitalize on the acting heavyweights that lend their vocal cords to this production (including Justin Long, Jessica Biel and John Cleese), Planet 51 gives audiences an imaginative view of life on another sphere, but unfortunately misses it’s potential for an intergalactic sized laugh.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Planet 51.
How does making humans the alien visitors change the perspective in this story? How do the residents of Planet 51 feel about the astronaut? Why do people usually presuppose that aliens will be enemies?
Why are we often afraid of the unknown? How do Lem, Skiff and Chuck change as they get to know one another? How is Lem’s knowledge of space increased by his interaction with the astronaut?