DVD Release Date:  September 22, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 1, 2009
Rating:  PG (for sequences of sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements)
Genre:  Kids/Sci-Fi, Animation
Run Time:  85 min.
Director:  Aristomenis Tsirbas
Voices by:  Danny Glover, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson, Evan Rachel Wood, Chad Allen, Beverly D'Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill

It may not have the same snappy one-liners of this year's Monsters Vs. Aliens or the gooey, heartwarming center and arresting aesthetics of last year's Wall·E, but what low-budget wonder Battle for Terra does have going for it in spades is solid storytelling, a pretty musical score and a wealth of vocal talent so good that you forget they're popular actors—which is good news for bringing this motley crew of animated characters to life.

Without missing a beat, the opening sequence immediately transports the viewer to the far-off planet of Terra, sort of like a futuristic Portland, Oregon where peace, art and music are its chief building blocks. If that wasn't idyllic-enough surroundings for Terra's inhabitants like the free-thinking, sassy protagonist Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) and her best pal Senn (Justin Long), it turns out they can also fly, which is a great way to keep those emissions levels down.

But a movie without a plot wouldn't be much of a movie at all, so these peaceful surroundings of Terra don't remain that way for long when they're invaded by—humans! Yep, instead of aliens invading our planet—the well-tread territory of many a sci-fi movie—we're the odd ones out this time around.

While Terra is invaded, it turns out that Mala's father (Dennis Quaid) ends up getting abducted. So she freaks out—big time—and starts exacting her revenge. Determined to save her father, she gets a little crafty by coercing Jim (Luke Wilson) into a crash, then rescues him, nurses him back to health and learns that a slew of loud-mouthed humans are the last of their species after Earth's natural resources, not to mention those of two other planets they tried inhabiting, were depleted.

While it would be easy for the inherently "green" message to get heavy-handed, even cloying, that's not the case here. If anything, Battle for Terra is ultimately a story of friendship, bravery and acceptance. Sure, there's the underlying subtext that we all need to do our part to keep our planet running smoothly—but nothing too preachy.

But after trying to do Jim wrong, Mala actually forges a pretty strong bond with her former "enemy," learning that humans and those from Terra have more in common than she originally anticipated. The same sort of character development happens across the board for those in Battle for Terra, making the 85-minute journey all the sweeter.

Also providing food for thought (a buffet-size plate, natch) that probably will go way over the heads of the under-10 set, Battle for Terra explores heady philosophical territory like the moral duty of human beings when confronted with other life forms, the role of technological developments in society and the effects (and collateral damage) that inevitably come with war. It's definitely not your typical lightweight animated fare, but does offer an opportunity for some fascinating post-movie dialogue.

Far from perfect, though, Battle for Terra does have some ideology that conflicts with Christian beliefs. Emphasizing that nature is what provides all we need to live, the Terrans have a "ceremony of life" in which they express their thanks to nature for providing its sustenance. And their religious creed is just as fluffy, indicating that "they are together, forever, in life." Later, some Terrans even mistakenly believe the Ark, the ship the humans arrive on, is a "new God."

Despite that definite clash of theology and underlying spiritual beliefs, Battle for Terra is still an engaging tale that provides an intriguing change of pace for sci-fi fans. And in 3-D, Terra positively sparkles, thanks to eye-popping visuals and imaginative set-ups.
 
CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  One instance of the Lord's name being taken in vain and one exclamation of dam---!
  • Sex/Nudity:  None. 
  • Violence: There are several battle scenes that include explosions, gunfire and hand-to-hand combat, and a few characters, including a couple of the main ones, die. There are also disturbing scenes where the Terrans begin to suffocate after humans turn on a spider-like machine. At one point, Mala is also taken hostage, and her life is threatened for show (although she's unaware of that at the time).

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.