'Luis and the Aliens': Film Review

Childhood's too short for 'toons this dull.

Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein's feature debut stars a school kid with some strange new friends.

Nearly 30 years ago, Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein won an Oscar for their animated short film Balance. Now they return with their debut feature, a cartoon kid-flick so ordinary it'd be unlikely to win awards at a third-tier film fest. Luis and the Aliens introduces a neglected boy to life from other planets, gets him in hot water with authority figures and then teaches him some life lessons. Though peppy and bright enough that it might amuse some kids should it show up on a screen in front of them somewhere, it offers no reason for their adult guardians to actually take them someplace to watch it.

As the biggest name by far in the voice cast, one might expect Will Forte to be playing the eponymous Luis. As it happens, he's oddly cast as just one of the trio of aliens who visit Luis Sonntag (voiced by Callum Maloney); and as of this writing, Forte's name isn't even on the pic's IMDb page. Luis is the son of an absent-minded scientist who's obsessed with proving that evil aliens have designs on Earth. Luis' mother died long ago, so the kid is forced to be the adult in the house, cooking and tidying up while Dad looks through his telescope.

Dad is right about mean aliens, but those aren't the first ones Luis encounters: He meets a trio of generically blobby E.T.s (one of whom looks suspiciously like the Toy Story space-critter) who call themselves "woopies": They've come to our planet, naturally, because as they monitored our broadcasts they saw something they really want on an infomercial.

The woopies — Mog and Nag and Wabo — can shape-shift at will if given a piece of someone's hair as a DNA sample. This is less convenient than it might seem, since they're a lot better at looking like someone than acting like him or her: When trying to impersonate the generically uptight couple across the street from Luis, their goofiness leads to predictable misunderstandings and excuses.

At the suggestion of a stern-looking stranger called Ms. Diekendaker (Lea Thompson), Luis' principal is tempted to send him off to a school for troubled kids if an interview with Mr. Sonntag doesn't go perfectly. So Luis has one of his new pals clone Dad for the meeting, which might have worked, if only...

In among the near-misses and improvisations, we learn about the other aliens in scenes that will be too scary for more sensitive kids. On that species' home planet, we're told, there's "no substance more precious than a lonely child's tears." Well, no tears here — though picky viewers will complain that the film's animation moves clumsily, its character design is dull and several performances feel like they were hastily recorded while taking a coffee break from some better-paying ADR session.

Production companies: Ulysses Filmproduktion, Fabrique d'Images, A. Film
Cast: Callum Maloney, Dermot Magennis, Lucy Carolan, Eoin Daly, Orlando Leyba, Joey Guila, Will Forte, Lea Thompson, Simon Torl
Directors-screenwriters: Christoph Lauenstein, Wolfgang Lauenstein
Producers: Emely Christians, Jean-Marie Musique, Christine Parisse
Editor: Peter Mirecki
Composers: Martin Lingnau, Ingmar Suberkrub

Rated PG, 82 minutes