Considering that I review most of the family films around here, I’m amazed to find myself still shaking off a dubious mindset at the thought of PG-rated movies. Such films arrive to a pretty high burden of persuasion, which is, of course, a chance that filmmakers choose to undertake. After all, there is a fairly fine balance that must be struck by the PG-rated family film to justify its elevated rating. Sure, of late, there’s been some really great PG-rated family films ( Coraline, which both defied the cold shower of its rating and also managed to avoid the gimmicky trappings of 3D), but there have also been some supremely awful ones (conveniently summarized as a whole in Delgo). Quite simply, however, PG-rated children’s films seem to be shackled with an absurdly high “meh” potential and often inhabit a bizarre realm between passable popcorn fare and the most watered-down soda drink imaginable. The variety of these films that I loathe the most are the ones that draw allegorical attempts at huge issues but make no attempt to offer solutions to the real-world events which they parallel. Inevitably, the experience ends up being too serious-minded for kids to enjoy and tediously dull for their parents. This is, unfortunately, the case with Battle for Terra an animated sci-fi drama that possesses a very simple plot but spreads itself to quite ambitious lengths to warn its audience concerning issues of technology, war, and the environment.
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas and scripted by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Battle for Terra manages to appear simultaneously generic and preachy. Even if you believe that humans should refrain from destroying the environment and reject violence, this film still comes off as much too overbearing for what’s supposed to be a family film. While I do give the filmmakers credit for stepping outside the cookie cutter, the film’s many agendas wash away all of that goodwill. The broad brush of symbolism — from kamikaze pilots to white men shooting the innocents with different colored skin to the crucifix-shaped fighter jets invading a land whose inhabitants wear customary keffiyeh as headdresses — weighs all to heavily on the story’s threadbare plot.
In Battle for Terra, Earthlings are no longer such and are depicted as the invading aliens in a twist not unfamiliar to “Twilight Zone” watchers. Humanity has long-since killed its own home planet, first by depleting Earth’s natural resources and then, literally, destroying the planet during an interplanetary war with the colonized Mars and Venus. The remaining Earthlings, who are aboard a vessel that’s seen better days, have floated through space for decades until coming upon the titular Terra. Since their ship is running low on fuel, the Earthlings are rather desperate and willing to take drastic action to save their species, all others be damned. So, these Earthlngs look to
destroy inhabit this new planet, Terra, which is capable of sustaining human life. The only problem is that the planet is also inhabited by Terrians, who don’t do oxygen because, well, it would wipe out their entire race. So, naturally, instead of asking the Terrians whether they’d mind dying for the oxygen-making process, the humans decide to just take them all out. On the orders of General Hemmer (Brian Cox, whose voicing similarly obliterates the scenery), the Earthlings start blowing shit up so they can make haste with the “terraforming machine,” oxygenize the atmosphere, and have the planet all to themselves. Fortunately, one ship crashes, and its pilot, Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), gets a woody for a teenaged Terrian girl named Mala (Evan Rachel Wood). His role as a homicidal drone is extinguished when Mala nurses him back to health. Jim is amazed at Mala’s selfless behavior, especially since Mala watched her too-trusting father, Roven (Dennis Quaid), be abducted by the Earthlings. So, Jim and Mala form an unlikely alliance to rescue Mala’s father and try to help their civilizations figure shit out.
Thank goodness for PG-rated erections.
It must be noted that Mala is rather unusual for a Terrian (despite her conformation physically as a tadpole/seahorse hybrid) in that, despite all attempts at overarching thought control, she actually engages in critical thinking and questions the actions and motivations of her Terra’s leadership. Otherwise, Terrians are pacifistic fundamentalists to a fault. They are neither violent nor vigilant and are, therefore, defenseless against the attack on Terra. In fact, Terrians actually mistake the Earthlings for gods, which brings us back to the allegorical agendas that drag the film down.
Battle for Terra does okay in the animation department. After all, CGI animation generally requires a pretty large budget, and this is an indie flick without an abundance of financial resources. The film’s space and flight sequences, as well as the landscapes of Terra are the most impressive, but the Terrians and Earthlings look just as ridiculous as with any straight-to-DVD animated film. Voice work is fairly shabby for the film’s two main characters, with Luke Wilson descending into hyper-nasal territory and Evan Rachel Wood giving a terribly generic voice to her plucky character. David Cross is effectively amusing as a helpful robot named Giddy, which is some weird-ass variation on R2/D2 that acts as a universal translator. Otherwise, you wouldn’t recognize the largely nondescript voice work from David Krumholtz, Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D’Angelo, Danny Glover, Mark Hamill, Chad Allen, and Justin Long. Skip this film, that is, unless you find it in a bargain DVD bin and desire an unconventional doorstop.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.