battle for terra
Director
Cast
, , , ,
Rated
PG
Runtime
85 min.
Release Date
05/10/2009
battle for terra

Not to be missed, Battle for Terra is a children’s computer animation film not from chief animation studio Pixar, and presented in 3-D—two considerable strikes, both of which are minor details that should be ignored. Though entertaining enough to divert your children’s attention for the duration and keep them quiet in the theater, the ideas within are big enough to inspire discussion and critical thinking in youngsters. At the very least, it presents a narrative structure your children haven’t seen before.

Consider how your children would react to humans being the bad guys, and cute little aliens being the good guys. And instead of aliens invading Earth, humans are invading an alien planet for a change, one called Terra, which incidentally is Latin for “earth”. Perhaps that’s why the producers changed the title from Terra, its name at the Toronto Film Festival, to Battle for Terra, so as not to confuse Latin-speaking children who saw Disney’s recent nature documentary Earth. (Okay, so maybe that’s not likely.)

Anyway, the film’s peaceful little alien planet is home to flying tadpole-like creatures with big expressive eyes and a funny way of floating by wiggling themselves about. Their local fauna is comprised of likewise flying creatures, such as massive sky whales. A peaceful people, they do what their Elders tell them, living in the treelike roots of a massive mushroom growth and not asking too many questions, because they were once a warring people reliant on technology. The main character, an impetuous and curious youth named Mala (Evan Rachel Wood), likes to ask questions, of course. And when a massive moving structure appears in silhouette and blocks their sun, everyone thinks it’s a new god, but Mala wants to know for sure.

On the flipside, Earth Force has been scouting the galaxy for generations, their broken-down ship barely able to sustain what’s left of humanity. Having exhausted natural resources on Earth long ago, led by a militaristic despot General Hemmer (Brian Cox), they invade Terra and plan to terra-form and oxygenate the atmosphere, which would in turn kill the local Terranians. But when reconnaissance pilot Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) crashes, he’s saved by Mala, and sees first-hand that the planet they’re invading is filled with peaceful people. And along with his silly robot Giddy (David Cross), a mix between C-3PO and WALL·E, Jim tries to defend Mala’s planet, while both parties prepare for war.

What ensues has surprising dramatic gravity, in that more sensitive children may need the notions of genocide and self-sacrifice, themes that appear later in the film, explained to them. But for those ready for it, and indeed anyone older than adolescence, Battle for Terra presents unexpected theatricality on a planetary scale. The none-too-subtle implications criticize humanity’s wasteful and warlike character, suggesting that someday our irresponsibility will turn us into monsters. Or perhaps we already are. An example is illustrated by the Terranians, who stopped their careless spending of natural resources and warmongering before it was too late. If we could be more like them, perhaps life would be better. Teaching responsible environmental and social awareness, the film is filled with social commentary. Maybe its messages will rub off on your children, and maybe not. Either way, it’s worth a try.

The voice talent includes James Garner, Justin Long, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Dennis Quaid, Chris Evans, Mark Hamill, Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D’Angelo, Ron Perlman, and Danny Trejo. Not that you’ll recognize these voices once the plot gets going. Animated movies could cut their budgets in half by avoiding that unnecessary need for celebrity name recognition on the movie poster, as if we’re rushing out to see the latest animated film because so-and-so did some voicework therein. Along with the 3-D gimmick, it’s a bad habit animation studios need to abandon.

Generic in visual concept design, the Terranians and humans alike both resemble a toddler’s action figures—smooth, and without much detail. However the scope of the picture, complete with rousing dogfight battles and an incredible sense of atmosphere, lends these characters and their environment a natural feel. Canadian director Aristomenis Tsirbas and writing partner Evan Spiliotopoulos construct an involving story with an animation style that takes time to appreciate. But once you’ve accepted that the animation won’t be near to Pixar, yet will surpass those Dreamworks Animation duds, you’ll realize the movie is more than kids’ stuff and become enveloped in the excitement—those grand stakes grounded in morality. How often can you say that of an animated film?

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