- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ndrew Stanton received quite a bit of flack for his heavy-handed environmental message at the end of “WALL•E,” so it will be interesting to see how director Aristomenis Tsirbas’ feature-length debut fares. After all, “Battle for Terra” is one big cautionary tale about the environment (among other things) that is disguised as a sci-fi adventure film. The eco-friendly message is downplayed for the most part, but it plays such a big role in the story that it remains in the back of your mind throughout. Of course, teaching kids about the environment shouldn’t be viewed negatively and is far from the movie’s biggest problem. Instead, it’s that the subject matter is so mature, kids might not want to see it at all – the animated film equivalent of box office poison.
The story takes place on the planet Terra, where a peaceful alien species that looks an awful lot like Glo Worms have just been attacked. Some of the Terrians mistake the invasion as the arrival of a new god, but youngster Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) knows better. After her father is abducted by the human invaders, Mala saves one of their missing pilots, Lt. Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), under the agreement that he’ll help rescue her father. The humans, meanwhile, are just looking for a new home after exhausting Earth of its natural resources, but when an overeager general (Brian Cox) fast tracks a plan to terraform the planet and make it inhabitable, Mala and Jim team up to stop him before the Terrian race is wiped out for good.
Though there’s not a whole lot to the story that we haven’t seen before, co-writers Tsirbas and Evan Spiliotopoulos do a good job of addressing the differences between the two worlds. Logic doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list for most storytellers these days, but “Battle for Terra” makes a point of explaining things like how Mala can communicate with Jim (his robot companion essentially burns the language into her brain) and how Jim is able to breathe on the alien planet. It isn’t something that most people would even notice, but it’s still nice to be treated with respect every once in a while. As Pixar has proven in the past, just because something is animated doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down, and though “Battle for Terra” is a far cry from anything in Pixar's catalog, it’s still one of the more mature-friendly animated films on the market.
Snoot Toons may be no Pixar, but for a first-time studio, they’ve done an incredible job. The animation is gorgeous, and though the 3-D doesn’t enhance the experience in quite the same way as, say, “Coraline,” there are a handful of amazing shots that show real promise from the Canadian-based team. The voice cast is also surprisingly star-studded, but none of the actors bring anything extra to their roles save for David Cross, who does his best C3PO/R2D2 impression as Jim’s robot companion, Giddy.
Despite some great visuals and a “Star Wars”-inspired finale, however, “Battle for Terra” is never better than average. The film crawls for most of its 85-minute runtime and none of the characters are particularly memorable, but it's still better than most of the garbage that DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios produce. Your kids might not enjoy it, but adult fans looking for something a little different will be pleasantly surprised.