Battle for Terra is human after all

Battle for Terra is human after all

Yes, Battle for Terra is just another CG-animated, science-fiction action fantasy. And yes, it does belabor its allegorical insistence that human beings are stubbornly imperialist and environmentally rapacious. It even has a Planet of the Apes sort of twist, but in this case it’s more like Planet of the Cute, Saucer-Eyed, Gravity-Defying Tadpole People.

Creature discomforts: Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) and Lieutenant Stanton (Luke Wilson) learn a few inconvenient truths in Battle for Terra.

Who are pretty much minding their own business, living peaceably and harmoniously and, of course, cutely among the treetops of their world, swimming/flying with the sky-whales and generally celebrating life, when one day a huge object appears overhead, ominously eclipsing one of the many moons. Some folks think it might be “a new god,” but most indications suggest otherwise. Indications such as the battalion of invading, abducting, war-mongering aliens.

When one rather feisty native named Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) sees her kindly father (Dennis Quaid) kidnapped, she can’t help but put up a fight, downing a hostile ship, then instinctively rescuing its pilot. Now comes the big reveal: The pilot is human.

With help from the man’s mannerly onboard robot (David Cross), Mala supplies him with a needed oxygen tent, learns his language, and gets to know him a little. A military man since birth, Lieutenant Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) descends from a crew that set off from a war-ravaged Earth generations ago in search of a new home for humanity. By now, with their mothership falling apart and their commanding general (Brian Cox) entirely out of patience, the humans are more than ready to move in by force.

So Mala will help the man fix his ship and get out of here, sure, but not without a short lecture. “The elders say a long time ago we were apart from nature,” she begins, and we understand that Lt. Stanton and his entire race are in for a good finger wagging. Of course, it was the same elders who responded to the humans’ first appearance with public-address announcements of  “Everything is all right” and “Go back to your homes,” exuding just enough nervously authoritarian control to make you wonder whether this organic, peace-loving utopia really is all that.

As Mala discovers, it isn’t. Turns out the tadpole people have a less than peaceable past. And they’ll need to remember it in order to defend themselves. Thus, the war between their races will afford Mala and her new human friend a chance to learn what they have in common—besides the irrepressible impulse to annihilate each other.

Director Aristomenis Tsirbas, co-writing with Evan Spiliotopoulos, can’t be accused of excessive finesse in matters of story (seeing one of those sky-whales caught in crossfire is upsetting, yes, but also shameless), yet the movie’s knack for atmosphere and architecture goes a long way toward mitigating the inherent, persistent artificiality of computer animation. Battle for Terra is forgettable, yes, but well-stocked with wonders while it lasts.