You know, there’s something I really, really love about animated movies meant for the young (or young at mind [or, you know, feeble-minded]). Things are just so very much simpler.
Take, for example, Planet 51, the new Sony animated movie, starring Dwayne Johnson and Justin Long. Johnson voices Chuck, the American astronaut character while Long voices Lem, a (well, to us) alien. Chuck is stranded on the strange planet, the inhabitants of which are (while green and be-antennaed) suffering through a 1950′s amazingly like our own. Full of monster movies and a paranoid fear of the other. Most of them are suffering from this. As well as some overwhelming surrender instincts to authority.
You might not get the joke initially, but Lem, just by his name, is an attempt at funny. See, when the Apollo space craft series began landing on the moon, there were a number of sections. One section stayed in orbit and provided the trip back home. Another section landed on the moon and was originally called the Lunar Excursion Module, pronounced LEM. Yeah, a bit obscure, but at least it was an attempt.
So, here’s the simplicity bit. See, learning a human language is hard enough, but it’s something at least familiar. Something meant to be pronounced by a human mouth using human lungs. An alien language now, that’s something all together different. It might take decades, centuries to decipher an alien language, not to mention the difficulty in having a human speak it.
Here’s where the filmmakers did something so mindboggling it’s almost brilliant. They didn’t want to spend the movie having the astronaut learn a language until he was older and gray. They just had the aliens and the humans speak the same language, English, with no explanation whatsoever. One alien says the astronaut is speaking his language and Chuck accuses the alien of speaking his language. That’s it. Move along. There’s nothing to see here. Let’s get on with the hijinks. I mean, robots aren’t going to piddle oil on their own.
While a passable movie for adults, my youngest little dude really liked this flick. Speed Racer didn’t move around at all during the entire flick. Not bad, then, for him.
Most of the humor consists of watching aliens do things humans do, seeing human attitudes adopted by aliens and watching robots piddle oil when they’re scared. Just about perfect for a fifth-grader.
I’m going to give this movie three (3) dudes out of five. Not bad, but nothing I’d sweat if I missed it in the theater.
And now for something from the quel surprise file. My family’s dog, Buzz (who’s part labrador, part pit bull, part cow and part beaver) hates squirrels. No really. Well, it’s not that he hates them so much as he wants to get squirrels in his mouth, shake them until all their bones break and then spend as long as possible tearing them apart. Rinse and repeat.
Yes, yes, yes. I know that describes just about every single dog in existence, but I’ve noticed something special about the way Buzz treats squirrels. And I think it gives us all something to think about. I think I used enough thinks in those last couple of sentences, yes?
Okay, here’s the deal. When Buzz first sees a squirrel, he runs at it as if d0g catchers were nipping at his heels. When he’s on a leash, that means the leash catches him up short and then causes him to flip over backwards in the air, land on his feet and then go after the squirrels again. He’s nothing if not determined.
Of course, when Buzz makes his move, the squirrel makes his as well. Like all good prey, the squirrel doesn’t stand and fight. It doesn’t make a defiant gesture. It just turns and runs. As quickly and drastically as possible. Most often up the nearest, tallest tree. Once the squirrel is at the top of the tree, he’ll run along branches and move from tree to tree. Again, not surprising.
What was surprising, I thought, was that Buzz wouldn’t give up when the squirrel disappears up the tree. He’ll stand quietly, his head cocked, listening for squirrel feet to scamper along a branch. Once he’s got that, he’ll locate the squirrel visually and then keep watching, slowly moving along the ground as the squirrel moves along in the trees. He’ll keep watching as long as the squirrel stays visible.
Our doggie dude doesn’t do this out of spite. Well, no more than normal for a dog who’s just lost his intended toy/lunch. He watches just in case. Just in case the squirrel suffers a stroke/heart attack/vertigo/whatever and falls to the ground. Buzz wants to be prepared. Who knows? The branch might break. Lightning might strike. The wind my howl enough to knock the squirrel off.
That’s what I love. Not that the dog is too stupid to know when to give up. That he knows that anything is possible. Anything can happen. He doesn’t let his goal disappear from sight without fighting for it. That’s something I think we should all remember as we go through life, closing our eyes and blinking away our vision of what’s possible.
It is, in point of fact, amazing. It’s something I recommend to anyone who has a younger dude in the family and they’re looking for something to read. Well, speaking of looking, it seems someone in Hollywood actually had a fantastic idea. With apologies to MGK.
Lackey 1: I think I can get the Strawberry Shortcake license.
Lackey 2: Love it! We can do her darker, or something. Like Batman, only with, you know, more cake.
Boss: I’m getting one of my headaches.
Lackey 3: You know, my nephew had this great book he read.
Lackey 1: Kids don’t read.
Lackey 2: It’s true. Nobody reads.
Lackey 1: Yeah, I read it in the trades I think. Whatever. Okay. Forget the cake, how about My Little Pony: The Revenge?
Boss: Yep. Definitely a headache. Does it look like my forehead is pulsing?
Lackey 3: My nephew liked the book so much, he made me read it and it’s great.
Boss: What’s it called?
And the rest is history. Seriously. If this sort of thing were around when I was Speed Racer’s age, I don’t think I would have ever left the theater, if only because the pure-amazingness would have melted my eyeballs.
President’s Day 2010, get prepared and enjoy the trailer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.