Mala (voice of Evan Rachel Wood, "The Wrestler") is an independent female Terrian who enjoys gliding with her boyfriend Senn (voice of Justin Long, "He's Just Not That Into You") above her beautiful world. But Mala's idyllic life is about to be severely threatened as what is left of the human race is approaching in a disintegrating space station, looking for a habitable planet. When individual fighter crafts begin an attack, Mala lures one of them into danger, but then rescues its downed fighter, Jim Stanton (voice of Luke Wilson, "Legally Blonde," "Henry Poole Is Here"), and nurses him back to health with the assistance of his robot, Giddy (voice of David Cross, TV's "Arrested Development"). But her brave and selfless act does not stop the "Battle for Terra."
Expanding on their 2003 short "Terra," director Aristomenis Tsirbas and screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos ("Pooh's Heffalump Movie," "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning") have fashioned a wonderful environmental fable tricked out as a 3-D computer animated science fiction actioner. Some obvious "Star Wars" imagery (Mark Hamill is even cast as Elder Orin) and stiffness of movement in the Terrian derriere (the aliens are spermlike creatures who 'swim' through space) aside, "Battle for Terra" is a nicely visualized independent animation that boasts an incredible vocal cast.
The filmmakers open by introducing us to both Mala's world and her daring spirit. Multi-winged birds alight on greenery, butterflies create rotating spirals and whale-like creatures 'swim' through the sky. The Terrians themselves look like tadpoles with large round heads from which dangle a long, triangular fleshy pendant. They have large, round eyes, no nose and a small mouth. When air-gliding, Mala dives into canyons, much like the fighting aircraft swooping through Death Star crevices, and almost gets caught by a wind tunnel. She is also very, very curious about the area which the Elders have forbidden them to enter. Of course, both of these places will come into play when the battle begins.
The humans are composed of President Chen (voice of Danny Glover, "Honeydripper," "Saw V"), a peaceable Black man, and General Hemmer (voice of Brian Cox, "Running with Scissors," "Zodiac"), who believes they need to take over the first planet that can house them. Hemmer stages a military coup and is prepared to use the Terraformer, a device which will make Terra's environment habitable for humans but kill off the Terrians. During one attack, one of those lovely whale-like creatures is hit and slowly falls to terra firma.
When Stanton awakens in an oxygen tent (rigged up environmentally, using plants) he at first calls Mala a monster, but Giddy convinces him that it was she who saved him. Once Jim has viewed the ceremony of life, he knows he is on a Utopian planet. He agrees to bring Mala back to the Ark so that she might find her father (voice of Dennis Quaid), who was abducted during that first raid. In the Ark, Jim leaves Mala behind only to discover that General Hemmer is prepared to use Jim's younger brother Stewart (voice of Chris Evans, "Sunshine," "The Nanny Diaries") to get Jim back on his side (this is a nice metaphor for the human civil war which not only destroyed Earth, but Venus and Mars as well).
Like "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Battle for Terra" uses 3D to draw one into its world rather than poke you in the eye with flashy effects. Characters are simply, but effectively, rendered. Fight sequences are more complex. The film features a really lovely score by Abel Korzeniowsi (2004's rerelease of "Metropolis"). This was a project which obviously got Hollywood's support because in addition to the lead vocal cast, all of whom do good work, secondary roles are voiced by David Krumholtz, James Garner, Amanda Peet, Ron Perlman, Laraine Newman, Rosanna Arquette, Danny Trejo and Beverly D'Angelo.
"Battle for Terra" may owe a large debt to "Star Wars," but it sends a strong message with aural and visual flair. "Monsters vs. Aliens" may have cost bigger bucks, but "Terra" has more creative soul.
Robin did not see this film.
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