A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though it's animated and targeted at kids, this sci-fi adventure deals with some very mature themes, including extinction, colonization, unprovoked war, and even a suicide bombing of sorts (the incident involves a main character and is presented as a noble sacrifice). The violence is more prominent than in most animated films and is similar to what you'd see in a movie like The Clone Wars -- animated, yes, but still disturbing. On the other hand, there are many positive lessons about environmental preservation, cross-cultural awareness, and peaceful negotiation, and there's no sex, language, or drinking to worry about. (Note: Some theaters are showing this movie in 3D, which adds an extra level of intensity.)
What's the story?
On the peaceful planet Terra, an adventurous adolescent alien named Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) notices that a huge, unidentified sphere has begun to darken the sky. Some Terrians believe the mysterious sphere is their new god, but it's actually the giant mobile home of what's left of the human race -- who've decided that Terra is just the spot for them. When fighter pilot Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) crash lands on Terra, Mala not only helps him recover but also handily fixes his plane. But their inter-species camaraderie is tested when it becomes clear that Jim's superior officer, warmongering General Hemmer (Brian Cox), is planning a genocidal attack that will wipe out the entire Terrian race. Jim must choose between following his orders and defending Mala's gentle land from extinction.
Is it any good?
BATTLE FOR TERRA isn't your typical animated film. It's not full of double-entendre jokes, wink-wink pop-culture references, or catchy songs. Instead, it's a dramatic "message movie" aimed at older children (and adults) who could use a lesson in what could happen if the Earth becomes unsustainable because of us. That doesn't mean there's not a lot of action to entertain and engage viewers, but the mood is kind of dark -- it's difficult to root for the post-apocalyptic "Earth Force" when they're planning all-out war on Zen-like creatures.
Director Aristomenis Tsirbas shows a real knack for action-packed animation, and the 3D effects are enjoyable without being overwhelming. The story could have used a lighter touch to be more appropriate for slightly younger audiences -- who might be scared or confused by the heavy artillery of the second and third acts. But if Battle manages to draw in tweens rather than more oblivious lower-elementary kids, the eco-conscious story could take hold.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the character who decides to sacrifice their life. Why did that character make their decision? Kids: How did it make you feel? Does it have more or less impact than the rest of the movie's violence? Why? Families can also discuss the movie's environmental message. What could Earthlings have done to prevent the eventual battle? Do you think this is meant to be a cautionary tale for us?
- In theaters: May 1, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: September 22, 2009
- Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Luke Wilson
- Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Space and aliens
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.