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Originally published Friday, May 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Battle for Terra" is solid, though not sugarcoated, animated film for family

The family film "Battle for Terra" — an animated, 3D drama about a human invasion of an alien world — is provocative and thoughtful.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"Battle for Terra," with the voices of Amanda Peet, Evan Rachel Wood, Dennis Quaid, James Garner, Justin Long, Danny Glover, Mark Hamill, Luke Wilson, Brian Cox. Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas, from a screenplay by Tsirbas and Evan Spiliotopoulos. 85 minutes. Rated PG for sequences of science-fiction action violence and some thematic elements. Several theaters, including at Pacific Place and Southcenter in 3D.

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A dystopian view of future interplanetary relations, and a real bummer of a picture of humankind's future, "Battle for Terra" is a solid, though not sugarcoated, animated film for the whole family.

"Terra" is also among the new breed of technologically sophisticated movies playing in 3D (at several theaters). It won't give you a headache if you peek at the screen without special glasses, and it largely eschews cheesy 3D effects. The illusion of physical depth, instead, underscores a thoughtful drama in near-subliminal ways. (Not that there's anything wrong with the tradition of cheesy 3D effects.)

The film's story is cleverly set up to resemble something like "Star Trek: Insurrection," in which a peaceful, simple people spend their days in a pastoral setting and are invaded by would-be occupiers from another world. It doesn't take long, however, for the line between good guys and bad guys to blur in interesting ways.

The planet Terra is inhabited by cute creatures that resemble large-eyed, stuffed worm toys one might buy for toddlers. Terrians spend their days floating above their vertical, treelike houses, delving into art and nature. They seem to be happy, except for their blind obedience to purportedly sage elders who suppress scientific curiosity and are sitting on a dark secret.

Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is a frustrated teen whose mother recently died and whose father (Dennis Quaid) keeps a firm lid on her hunger for exploration and knowledge. When Terra is invaded one day by descendants of humans who fled Earth during a catastrophic war, Mala rescues a wounded enemy soldier, Jim (Luke Wilson).

The two form a bond that influences the outcome of an all-out war between Terrians and humans, a battle that results in sometimes surprising losses.

There's a lot to admire about "Terra," particularly its blunt, though not harsh, vision of two different yet equally evolved species proving to be as destructive as they are great. The fascinating, hypothetical process of terraforming — turning alien worlds into Earthlike planets — is a big part of the story, too. There's a lot for parents and kids to talk about on their way home from the theater.

Tom Keogh:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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