It seems a bit late, but New Line has finally joined the animated film business. Fortunately for them, they've avoided the attempt to set up something in-house, choosing instead to acquire something already in the works. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio has picked up Planet 51, which is being produced by Spain-based Ilion Animation Studios. Scripted by Shrek and Shrek 2 co-writer Joe Stillman, the film is about the titular planet, which is visited by an "alien" from Earth. I guess it's kinda like a reverse E.T., where NASA astronaut Chuck Baker befriends a young native of Planet 51 and must avoid capture. According to the film's IMDb page, in which it's titled Planet One, Stillman is co-directing with Jorge Blanco. However, The Hollywood Reporter lists the co-directors as Blanco, Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, all of whom apparently worked together on a video game titled Commandos.

Planet 51 is currently in production but doesn't seem too far along. Ilion hasn't yet cast the voices, which typically come first. Considering that at first glance I thought the promo image was of Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear (yeah, my eyesight is bad), I suggest they just go ahead and get Tim Allen for the lead. And then they should cast Henry Thomas as the alien kid, because all animated films these days need to be full of referential jokes. I also have to add another suggestion to New Line and Ilion: make the film in 3D. With an expected release date of March 2009, Planet 51 is teetering on the edge of the future, as Dreamworks Animation has already declared 2009 to be the year it begins releasing all its films exclusively on 3D screens. It's first, Monsters vs. Aliens, is even set to come out that same month. Now, Planet 51 may not need to be too competitive if it can hit theaters a few weeks earlier (MvA is set for end of month), though chances are audiences will forget about a lame-old 2D release once the real attractions arrive. With a budget of $60 million, Planet 51 probably can't afford to be so easily dismissed.