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Battle for Terra Surprisingly Good

Published April 30, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
Battle for TerraBattle for Terra
For a movie I’d never heard of and just came up out of nowhere, Battle for Terra is really good. It may not look like Pixar, but it holds up with them story-wise and kicks Dreamworks’ ass.

Review: Battle for Terra

It’s a really profound story. The peaceful creatures of Terra believe that human invaders are gods calling them up. Actually, after we’ve exhausted earth and our neighboring planets, a military leader sets his sights on Terra. Since their atmosphere is incompatible with humans, he’s happy to terraform it for our use and let them all die.

Yes, a cartoon for kids is addressing naïve religious beliefs and the moral questions of our political actions. Right on. There aren’t easy answers here. If you side with the Terrarians, humanity is out of luck. But come on, they’re so cute.

They explain the atmospheric differences really clearly. Even if the words are too big, it shows they can’t both breathe in the same space. Terraforming is technobabble for the intelligentsia but the story is clear: us or them.

It has a certain intensity that I love in kids movies. There are extreme stakes and some bad stuff happens to people you like. That’s all healthy. Better we relate to the dramatic stakes of fiction than lose perspective on real life.

Yet it’s also the most mellow animated film I can recall since Bambi. It’s exciting, but not bombastic. It’s funny, but not hyperactive.

I didn’t even recognize the celebrity voices. I mean, I know who’s playing who because there are opening credits, but their voices totally blend into the characters. Granted, Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox and Chris Evans aren’t the marquee names that Dreamworks would force into their characters. They’re just expressive voices who can play the roles.

The animation is a tad less detailed than some recent advances but its distinct look is beautiful. They actually imagined a planet surface we haven’t seen before, no small feat after all the Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica that exists.

It is a really smart film. It never talks down to the audience. It just shows solutions to problems and we understand what happened.

Of course, everyone in the audience hated it. One special guest said he’d rather have a root canal with no novocaine, and an attractive couple didn’t appreciate the inaccurate portrayal of terraforming. America just isn’t ready for Battle for Terra.

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Fred Topel
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