Review: Battle for Terra

Considering they're basically noseless tadpoles, the inhabitants of "Battle for Terra's" title planet are an endearing group, and their world is the fully realized offspring of dreamy imagination and CGI. U.S. production is as original and convincing a feature as the better Japanese animes of recent years --"Tekkonkinkreet" comes to mind, along with the slightly older "Metropolis." While too violent for the youngest kids, the sci-fi invasion story, high-tech wizardry and high-profile vocal cast could make for substantial mainstream traffic. Adoration by animation acolytes? Affirmative.

Helmer Aristomenis Tsirbas and scribe Evan Spiliotopoulos have created a galactic utopia, but not one without costs: Freethinkers like Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) are an endangered species. The planet -- around which the tail-heavy Terrareans motor as if underwater -- is ruled by mullahs who enforce fundamentalist policies regarding behavior and belief.

As a result, the population has become a bit infantilized; when invading Earthling forces are spotted entering Terra's atmosphere, the fliers are assumed by some to be approaching gods. What the Earthlings want -- having used up three planets already -- is Terra itself.

Combining elements of "Planet of the Apes" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Battle for Terra" is also part inter-species "Romeo and Juliet." Mala, whose father is abducted by aliens (humans!), saves and protects crash-landed pilot Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), hoping he'll take her to her father and secure his release. Thus allied, Mala and Jim must hide from both the Terrareans and the Earthlings, who plan to convert the Terra atmosphere into one inhabitable for humans but poisonous for Mala and her people.

What helps make "Battle for Terra" a good ride is that Tsribas and Spiliotopoulos have addressed many of the implausibilities such a story naturally comes saddled with, such as the language barrier, which is corrected by the R2-D2-inspired Giddy (David Cross), a combination robot/Berlitz course.

"Battle for Terra" isn't sugar-coated -- the humans are hardly paragons of virtue, but neither are the Terrareans. And the story's resolution won't make it the feel-good cartoon of 2008, although it is a work of art.

Tech credits are superb, including the sound, which is used in such a precise way as to give palpable weight and substance to Tsirbas' amazing architectural creations.

Picked up for distribution by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, pic was reviewed from the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival under its original title, "Terra."

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