I always feel that most movies have a great idea in them somewhere. All films typically start with a promising idea, some of them working better than others and in the case of "Planet 51", there is a great idea in there somewhere. This is a film I could see working if the right steps had been taken and the film did something interesting with the story. Unfortunately, that's not the case here. This is easily one of the biggest wasted potentials I've seen for an animated movie in a long time as it just ended up being so unfunny and cliched which made it fall flat on its face. These filmmakers had something good with this film, but they just didn't use their full possibilities that could've been possible. It is a big disappointment.
On an alien planet that looks like 1950s America, a teenage boy named Lem (Justin Long) seems to have things going his way. He recently got hired as a part-time assistant at the planetarium and seems to be having a girl named Neera (Jessica Biel) having his attention. Though the whole city is thrown upside down when a NASA landing module lands in the city and the astronaut onboard named Chuck (Dwane Johnson) being shocked to find the planet inhabited. After running into Lem and convincing him that he's not dangerous, Chuck tells him that he has to get back to the module in three days or his space ship is going to take off to Earth without him. With the help of Neera's young brother Eckle (Freddie Benedict) and Lem's best friend Skiff (Seann William Scott), Chuck sets off to get back to his ship while hiding from the evil General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and an alien mad scientist named Professor Kipple (John Cleese).
As I said, there is a really good idea hiding in this movie somewhere and yet the filmmakers didn't do much with this concept. What this film should've been is about an alien planet that lives peacefully until a human ship lands on the planet far away from the city and we see from the aliens perspective how scary an invasion could've been like with themes about colonization thrown in. I think that's an idea the filmmakers should've used for this film instead because what we got is just an E.T. knockoff except it's in reverse. Instead of an alien landing on Earth and human kids have to get him back home, it's now where a human lands on an alien planet and the alien kids have to get him back home. It just makes the film feel very cliched and it goes every single direction you expect to go. Not only that, but it's also really unfunny. Most of the gags don't land as it has an over-reliance on aliens misunderstanding human artifacts and lots of 1950s reference. The one that made me roll my eyes was a reference to "Singing in the Rain" where the rover that came with Chuck sees rocks raining from the sky and because the rover loves rocks, he feels the need to dance while Singing in the Rain is playing in the background. These are the kind of jokes that are in the film. The characters are also another big problem with this film. I especially disliked the character of Chuck who was incredibly egotistical and annoying. The filmmakers were trying to make us sympathize with him by adding this subplot that he was picked by NASA to go into space just for his good looks, but it's hard to like him when the first time we see him, he's complaining about not being able to get slimed at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Not to mention, Dwane Johnson was badly miscast as the character. I usually like him, but this was not the role for him. As far as the other characters go, they're mostly stale and unimpressive with Lem, Neera, Eckle, Skiff, as well as the two villains filling the roles we typically expect from these characters. I guess the only thing worth noting that I kind of like about the film was the animation. It looked nice for the time and I do like the look of the town seen in the film. I also like the idea of the people being green men with antennas and the dogs being Xenomorphs from the "Alien" franchise. That was a clever idea. Though it wasn't enough to save this film.
All in all, "Planet 51" is simply a dreadful film. Despite the animation looking nice, the story is unfunny and very unoriginal, and the characters range from unlikeable to nothing noteworthy. If you want my advice, watch "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" instead. It's much better executed in every single way, not to mention that it's one of Steven Spielberg's best films. This, on the other hand, is just a clone that doesn't do anything spectacular. It's just a jumbled mess and it should've gone back to the planet where it came from.