Bot & Lu: The Black Hole Escape
Planetarium of University of Santiago of Chile, Chile
Film review by Ubbo Grassmann, Stuttgart
Length: 28 min
Release: July 2017
Introduction: Bot is a robot that lives in the Planetarium. He has always dreamed of traveling to space, hence he is creating his own spaceship, and as he builds it, he is approached by Lu, a very studious ladybug who lives there. She tells him that he is not able to travel to space, that he cannot take things that are the property of the Planetarium and threatens to denounce him to the authorities. Bot, finishes the construction of his spaceship and accidentally takes off into space with himself and Lu inside … What will become of our friends?
Plot summary and Review: So – Can the unlikely duo of a robot and a ladybug not only launch, explore the universe and come back – but also educate the children watching in a fun way while doing so? Spoiler Alert: Yes.
In the beginning our two main (and only) characters get introduced in a quick and professional fashion, “Bot” – the (over)-confident, smarty pants (but lacking knowledge) robot is set into contrast by the all-knowing but fluttery and nervous ladybug “Lu”. A minor conflict about illegal procurement of planetarium property Bot used to build the Spaceship kicks of the relation between our two protagonists nicely. As in any good story, the relationship of the characters develop during the adventure, as we will see.
After a mere five minutes of setup, the learning begins starting with weightlessness and is going on covering a wide variety of topics, including the planets of the solar system, Jupiter’s Moon Europa, the Asteroid Belt, extrasolar planets, star temperatures and much more.
The educational content is well dispersed and punctuated with well scripted humor, ranging from Lu plugin in a USB Key into Bot’s head to Bot playing the air-guitar to his trademarked special solar-panels. Even the obligatory (well done) fart-joke is included for the kids.
Analysis: What works and what doesn’t: The character animation and the animation in general is very well done. Using non-human characters is a very established production choice in planetariums, and serves as a good choice here as well: With a robot, no lip-syncing is necessary, no spacesuit for spacewalks is needed and rigging and animation is a lot simpler than trying to bridge the uncanny valley with human protagonists.
The characters hence work quite well all around, Bot’s animated eyes are very expressive and Lu’s constant fluttering around the spaceship sets both of them in scene admirably.
Spatial geometry is also well thought through, in scenes such as the flight through the asteroid belt one can tell, the producers had the dome in mind from the very beginning. Light and Sound are also very well used throughout the program.
A major drawback that irritated a bit were the numerous hard cuts set throughout the whole show. This might be personal preference, but the rapid cuts mostly accompanying a (sometimes quite dramatic) perspective shift gave a very unsteady and hectic feeling when watched on the dome. The sweet spot is always set to the front at about a 40-degree angle. Some scenes also work well in a concentric seating arrangement.
The titular Black Hole is reached after 20 minutes into the 28-minute show. Neptune is mentioned and shown but not named. These and very minor points that don’t really take away from the viewing pleasure at all.
Conclusion: Kids will laugh and connect with the selfie-taking Bot and the fast-talking Lu right away and the parents will also learn a lot while visiting. The larger lesson of “let’s work together to fix problems” is also well told and concluded in the end. For a well rounded children’s show with a good mixture of facts and fun, told with relatable characters, this program is absolutely recommended.
12th FullDome Festival, May 25, 2018 [/three_fourth_last]