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If Stand by Me, ET, and The LEGO Movie had a baby it would be Julian Glander's Boys Go to Jupiter (and that’s a good thing)

Tribeca Film Festival kicks off with a heartfelt animated movie from Julian Glander about aliens, teenagers, and the gig economy

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This week the Tribeca Film Festival saw the world premiere of Boys Go to Jupiter, an animated film from Julian Glander about Billy 5000, a 16-year-old high school dropout in Florida who does food delivery work via a Grubhub-like app. While his high school friends fool around, go to the beach and try to get people to buy them beer, Billy hustles from gig to gig, fighting to earn $5000 so that he can pay his sister back for letting him live in her garage and get his own place.

On the surface, the film seems to have a lot in common with the 2014 blockbuster The LEGO Movie. Like Lego’s Emmet Brickowski, Billy finds himself trapped in a capitalist system that has no real interest in him. Every morning the Grubster app's avatar Mr. Moolah sings him a song about all the money he’s going to make, but it’s all empty promises. And virtually every business Billy visits, whether to deliver food or to pick it up, seems equally adrift. The dinosaur-themed putt-putt golf course sits empty. The boss of the fruit juice business relentlessly pushes her teenage daughter to design her own fruit juice combinations. And everyone comes to the World’s Largest Hot Dog hot dog stand just to take pictures or use the bathroom. “No one seems to realize our hot dogs are actually delicious,” the owner confides to Billy.

There’s a Stand By Me-like wistfulness to this world, a lonely sense of what was special having passed that gives the film a depth totally unlike than the Lego Movie. There is no Lord Business for Billy or his friends to defeat here. When Billy discovers that much of his income has been wiped by Grubster and calls customer service, the genuinely nice customer service agent inevitably ends up putting him back on hold to talk to someone else. That’s life. There’s no overcoming it. You have to just accept it.

For Billy, rescue comes in the form of a round little purple alien who shows up in one of his deliveries. “Donut,” as he names the creature, is like a tire-shaped version of E.T. or Baby Yoda—innocent, delightful, and speaking a language all its own. Over the course of the film Billy grows more and more attached to the creature, eventually casting aside his financial aspirations in favor of keeping Donut safe. And in doing so, he gains the possibility of a whole new life with Donut, his siblings, and their mother Glarba deep beneath the earth.

Offbeat, haunting, and kind of hilarious, Boys Go to Jupiter is a story about the world we live in, where side hustles are all and security is a carrot we never quite reach. Where the Lego Movie promised everything can work out fine if you just believe in yourself, Jupiter knows that’s nonsense. But still it finds hope in the unavoidable weirdness and surprise of being alive.

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