“I’m the brains and you’re the brawn.” – Gary Supernova
Two alien brothers – one glory-seeking and fairly oblivious, feeding on the adulation of his fans, the other a behind-the-scenes guy and family man (who really provides the brains for their operations) find themselves on “The Dark Planet”. It’s the most dangerous place in the galaxy, from which space-travelers never return. The trailer (and the title, Escape from Planet Earth) basically give away the humorous (sad?) reality that this planet is earth, and we see the entire Supernova family – brothers Scorch and Gary, plus Gary’s wife and son – deal with the situation. Plot and comedy hijinks serve as a narrative test to see whether crisis will widen or heal the rifts between this troubled family.
“Gary, turn off your brain and hang on!” – Kira Supernova
This might be a way for the film to tell the viewer to relax and just roll with the simple story, as the message is simple and transparent. This first theatrical release from Rainmaker Entertainment doesn’t strive for greatness, just a good time. The movie never really takes the time to breathe, as with other animated films like How to Train your Dragon, never attempting the grandeur of an epic animated film like Toy Story, but maybe it doesn’t have to. Going in with the right expectations, Escape’s quips and visual gags will entertain adults and children alike… and the basic themes can create a great moment for family conversation about roles and the necessity of diversity in any family or group.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many… As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor… that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12
Knowingly or not, this simple portrait that scripture paints about the “family” of Christians pretty much shapes the plot of Escape from Planet Earth. Scorch gets all the honor while Gary feels unappreciated, although he is indispensable. His frustration is amplified by the fact that his son doesn’t understand and wants to grow up to be his uncle. There is even some disdain given by another character to Kira for being a stay-at-home mom. The story’s crucible makes them all suffer together, properly realizing the honor they should be showing one another, and because this is a family film it’s not much of a spoiler to say they all rejoice together at the end.
There are some genius moments in the movie, such as Scorch’s “first contact” on earth, and the way all the Area 51 henchmen have their names called out in sets of two that only adults will get: “James, Cameron, take ’em down!” Ricky Gervais as the voice of the computer Bing steals all his scenes, and casting William Shatner as the maniacal man who is also wooing a woman by sporting a sexy toupee is inspired. Unlike many children’s cartoons, these touches make the viewing less of an “endurance” for adults taking children and rather enjoyable. Sure, these themes may have been done before, and other animated movies may have done them better and even grappled surprisingly well with more complex issues, but it’s also not as scary as some (Toy Story 3’s fiery inferno scene springs to mind) so for young children getting a first theatrical experience, it’s not a bad way to start.
As a man who’s served as a lead pastor and is often front and center on stage like Scorch, it’s easy to believe you’re the pivotal or indispensable piece and all the behind-the-scenes workers are less important, interchangeable, replaceable or simply unnecessary (until your microphone craps out). Having both a blood-related brother and loving friends as close as siblings, this story isn’t just a great lesson for kids but a sobering reminder to all the celebrities or extroverts out there as well. How easily we forget the efforts of those who serve with us, and how easily we think the story is about us.
Even a simple film like Escape from Planet Earth can be more than escapism, a little reminder that we need to take our own image a little less seriously, remembering what truly has gravity and deserves our orbit: our attention and affection.