By Scott Weinberg (Originally published 4/29/08 -- Tribeca Film Festival -- back when the film was just Terra.)
One always wants to give an independently-produced animated feature a little extra kindness, seeing as how amazingly difficult it must be to get a CG feature produced in an industry dominated by Pixar, DreamWorks, and Fox. These movies are monumentally hard to create, even with the best experts and a boat-load of money, so imagine how tough it must be for a Canadian outfit like Snoot Entertainment. Debut effort from the feldgling company, Terra is certainly not a brilliant little experiment, but it sure is colorful enough to warrant a few peeks. Animation buffs will appreciate the film's lush landscapes -- but I'm wondering if the movie has that "kid appeal" that's the absolute lifeblood of CG features.
The plot kicks off in slightly familiar fashion, but then we're thrown a nice little curve-ball: Seems the planet of Terra is populated by these kind-hearted and really adorable tadpole-ish creatures. This species knows nothing of war or violence, so when a massive "something" appears in the sky, most of the Terrians mistake the presence for that of a "new god." (The movie touches on religion only tangentially, but also rather interestingly.) But it's not a god; it's an invading force. Obviously the viewer is expecting the invader to be some sort of horribly nasty creature, and in some ways it is: The invader is us.
After spending generations floating through space on a massive ship, the universe's last humans have chanced upon Terra -- and it sure looks like humanity has a plan to terra-form and colonize that pastoral planet. Too bad the oxygen-making process will make the Terrians extinct, but that's of no concern to the human military leaders. While some of the more considerate folks are looking for other options, the selfish General Hemmer decides to -- you guessed it -- bomb the hell out of Terra and claim it for "humanity."
Clearly we're looking at a simple enough allegory, but hats off to the filmmakers for at least tossing a few curve balls into the mix. Although it's a simple adventure story and an obvious statement on the evils of war, Terra also makes a few small statements about organized religion, the dangers of conformity, and the importance of open-mndedness. I also like how neither race is portrayed as too angelic or too evil. The heroic Terrians are victims of their own conformist ways at the outset, and the humans express both nobility and horrific selfishness. Yes, it's a pretty "sweet-natured" movie, but there are some shades of gray in there, which I both noticed and appreciated.
The animation is exceedingly beautiful as far as the exteriors, the landscapes, and the overall production design are concerned -- but the characters (both the humans and the Terrians) are a bit too stylized to sell the meat of the movie. The heroic Lt. Stanton looks a like like a larger, blander version of Buzz Lightyear, while the Terrians are all tails and eyeballs; cute, but not all that dramatically engaging. As is always the case with CG features like Terra, the voice cast is jam-packed with familiar chords: Evan Rachel Wood and Luke Wilson provide the voices of lead characters Mala and Stanton, but eagle-eared moviegoers will recognize David Cross as a helpful robot, Danny Glover as a wise leader, Brian Cox as a war-mongering soldier, and hey that's Justin Long, James Garner, Dennis Quaid, Chris Evans, and on and on.
Based on director Aristomenis Tsirbas' short film from a few years back, the feature-length Terra has a basic-yet-admirable statement to make about the best and worst of human nature, and it makes the statement colorfully, sincerely, and succinctly (less than 85 minutes of succinctness, actually). The cynics will have a ball punching holes in this one, and I'd probably even agree with a handful of their criticisms, but as a short, slick, and colorful little diversion, Terra works more than well enough.