Watching Battle for Terra, the latest computer-animated 3D offering, is little like stepping into a breathtaking cathedral in a strange city and finding a church play going on in the middle of it. The drama may be competently done, but it's the least interesting thing in the room. You keep looking past the action, stealing glances to one side or the other, absorbed in the splendor of the setting. Earnest as the players are, the moralizing story draws you in only fitfully, and most of the time you'd rather steal away and just wander aimlessly from one corner to another, taking it all in.
Give writer-director Aristomenis Tsirbas and co-writer Evan Spiliotopoulos credit: Not only have they pulled off an exercise in visionary world-building warranting comparison to Miyazaki—and without the backing of a major studio—they've crafted an uncompromising, hard sci-fi parable in a genre, computer-animated fantasy, dominated by comedy, mostly with anthropomorphic animals and such. In its own way, Battle for Terra is as daring as WALL-E, and if it isn't as accomplished or satisfying, the story and the science make a lot more sense.
The first few minutes, before the story gets rolling, are mesmerizing. The alien world on which Battle for Terra is set is a sort of aerial seascape, with flora and fauna inspired by aquatic Earth species, but without the water. A winged fish hovers like a hummingbird, seaweed-like forests stretch skyward and broad-leafed plants dangle long stems like water lilies in an invisible lake.
An awesome whale-like creature, disconcertingly referred to by one of the locals as a "sky whale" (as if our terrestrial species were his reference point as well as ours) soars majestically through the sky like the ...1