Monday, February 18, 2013

Pixar Lite

Escape From Planet Earth       Final Cut Score: 81%

There's a general rule of thumb for films that don't screen for critics ahead of their opening: They reek. The studios fear word of mouth could be quite unkind so rather than risk it, they simply release the thing sans any nitpicking once-overs.

The Weinstein Company chose that evasive path for their latest - and best - animated outing to date, Escape From Planet Earth, a surprisingly well-produced effort that fills the recent vacuum of family films without totally sucking.

Originating on the lame-named planet Baab, celeb space explorer Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) sets off on a rescue mission to the "Dark Planet" AKA Earth. The costumed-like-a-NASCAR-driver alien's journey goes awry as he's caught and tossed in an Area 51 dungeon with an assortment of fellow intergalactic freaks that were ripped straight out of Monsters, Inc.

Enter Scorch's brother Gary (Rob Corddry), the blue-faced egghead saucers in to bail out his younger bro only to end up in the same imprisoned predicament. As you see, the captured creatures from other worlds are responsible for every technological advance our society has ever known: the interwebs, smartphones, social networking – anything geek related. Their skills proving to be invaluable to an occasional Elvis-wig-sporting evil general (William Shatner) who has designs on blowing up the galaxy, celestial body by celestial body.

Stealing a sizable chunk of its feel from DreamWorks' superlative Monsters vs. Aliens, storyboard artist-turned-director Cal Brunker pushes the proceedings along at too leisurely a pace at times but the concluding getaway sequence is handled with aplomb with visuals that are light years stronger than any of Weinstein's prior animated productions like the woefully slipshod Hoodwinked.

While Escape From Planet Earth will never be mistaken for a Pixar production, it's a massive step in the right direction for TWC. One that signals Weinstein may be on the verge of becoming as major a player in the animated world as it is in the indie world – a lesser absurdity than Silver Linings Playbook receiving a best picture nomination.