Luis and the Aliens

Luis and The Aliens is a 3D animated German kids’ fantasy, now dubbed in English and releasing in North America on DirecTV and in theaters August 17th.

Luis is a nerdy 11 year old, bullied and uncomfortable. He’s an outcast who has eyes for Jennifer, a journalism student who is basically Lucy Van Pelt. His mom has passed away. His dad is an obsessed and distracted ufologist conspiracy theorist.

He befriends three wacky but lovable little blobular aliens after they crash their UFO into his house. In return for Luis’ help in finding the home-shopping channel stuff they came for, they save him from being sent away to boarding school by DFACS. Adventures and hilarity ensue.

Most great contemporary mainstream animation (and vintage animation too, for that matter) works on multiple layers. Kids love the superficial slapstick, bright colors, and silly voices while adults can chuckle at cultural references the kids won’t get. Fun for everyone, especially for parents whose child becomes enamored of a particular film and insists on endless repeat viewings.

Luis and The Aliens misses the mark for that multi-layered audience. Kids will enjoy it. Adults will be bored to tears. Instead of riffing on cultural references, the filmmakers have cut and pasted the script beats and tropes from every story with a nerdy misunderstood kid with a hard-knock life suddenly immersed in adventure after being selected by a metaphysical Deus Ex Machina who gets his due respect in the big reveal when everybody sees he really is special. Yawn.  

Not that that’s a bad premise, and not that it won’t be done again newer and better, but this film doesn’t even try to give it a fresh take. This story lifts ideas wholesale from E.T., The Neverending Story, Up, Prometheus (and/or Tales of Pirx the Pilot from Stanislaw Lem), and even more recent films like Home. The list of “influences” would scroll off the page. It’s also replete with pop culture references, but they are delivered flat and without context like a PowerPoint presentation of stuff they think we think is cool bolted on for street cred.

“…every misunderstood kid suddenly immersed in adventure who gets his due respect in the big reveal when everybody sees he really is special…

The animation is workmanlike in its execution, delivering more seamlessly perfect digital commodity level output.

The cynic in me (in other words, me) suspects this film is just grist for the mill, flimsy product cranked out as content to feed the bottomless gaping maw of demand for new and colorful and loud.

It’s bothersome that the film takes Luis’ situation so lightly. He’s a neglected little boy whose mom died, with no parental guidance, and social adaptation issues. The administration at his school is gunning for him to try to put him in an orphanage. He looks after his deranged father and even has to make his own birthday cake.

Also in the negative column is the mildly annoying Latina maid stereotype that we probably should shelve at this point.

“…grist for the mill, flimsy product cranked out as content to feed the bottomless gaping maw of demand for new and colorful and loud…

Am I saying the film sucks? I am not saying that at all. It’s not that bad, it’s just that, as an adult you’ve seen this entertainment to death. On the upside, the great thing about being a kid is that you haven’t seen everything yet and because the filmmakers borrowed from the best, it will work for young children. This film could serve as a primer on alien / UFO / misunderstood outsider tropes for kids who aren’t familiar.

But do we need that? Couldn’t you just show them E.T., or Batteries Not Included, or Close Encounters, or Explorers, or when they’re a little older, The Outsiders?

Luis and The Aliens (2018). Written and directed by Christoph Lauenstein, Wolfgang Lauenstein. Starring Will Forte, Lea Thompson, Orlando Leyba.

5 out of 10

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