Anything mistaken for a new god in the sky can’t be a good thing. Especially if it’s big enough to blot out your planet’s light source and whirs even from a distance with the ominous growl of a souped-up Hoover. One spritely little alien in Battle for Terra isn’t drawing up plans for the temple just yet, however, and she instead putters up for a closer look at the mysterious, churning orb reflecting in her eye. Thus begins the story director Aristomenis Tsirbas calls his “reverse invasion” tale: It’s the human poised for the hostile takeover of an unsuspecting planet.
Once you get past the Terrians looking, and moving, like magnified sperm — especially when they’re in a hurry — they’re just the sort of wide-eyed creatures (think blinky baby seals) you’d never want to see suffer. Who could possibly come face to face with these adorable beings and mean them any harm? Well, the humans for one — they’ve exhausted their natural resources, blown up their own planet by accident, and languished for generations on a massive, aging space craft in search of a new home.
The good news is, despite their creepy, box-jawed quasi-realism, the humans aren’t all bad. After Captain Stanton (voiced by Wilson) crash lands, spritely alien Mala (Wood) takes him in, and Stewart slowly sees the ethical dilemma of his mission. He does little to impress this on his fellow humans, though, and the storyline remains rather simplistic. The limited exposure to beings on opposing sides, beyond Mala and Stewart’s interactions, robs the plot of richer scenarios that even kids would be savvy to. When filmmakers make such a visually sophisticated break from the usual kid fare, one would expect them to up the ante in every other respect as well.