Laura CliffordAn unmanned space ship gets trapped in an interstellar wormhole and lands on the planet Malgor, inhabited by a myriad variety of creatures. The flailing US space agency, led by the Senator (voice of Stanley Tucci), decides a good PR move will help bring back the budget and a new mission is set to follow the lost probe. Man refuses to go on such a dangerous undertaking, so it’s a good thing they have “Space Chimps.”
I do not know who is handling the marketing for this but, if the screening I attended is any indication, the target audience is parents with toddlers. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for me) this film is not for little kids. “Space Chimps” is too rich in characters and humorous writing to waste on the short attention span audience. This is really aimed at older kids, parents and adult-child who can appreciate humor and wit as well as a fun action adventure. A story that has such places as the Valley of Very Bad Things, the Cave of the Flesh Devouring Beast and The Black Cloud of Id is a give away that we are not playing kiddie games here.
We first meet showboating circus star Ham III (voice of Andy Samberg), the grandson of the world’s most famous chimpanzee Ham (the first American in space), as he does his death defying act of being shot out of a canon. He comes to the attention of the now-struggling space agency (I don’t the think word NASA” is ever mentioned) and the boffins of the program Doctors Jagu (Omid Abtahi) Bob (Patrick Breen) and Poole (Jane Lynch) dust off the old chimp space program under the Senator’s critical eye. Using Ham’s historic granddad as a public relations hook, the simian joins Lt. Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Commander Titan (Patrick Warburton) and the trio are launched into the wormhole to find out if there is intelligent life out there.
At a lean 81 minutes, “Space Chimps” wastes like time on frivolous activities. This meat and potatoes space opera deals with such concepts a tyranny, slavery and freedom and the solid script covers such serious issues with wit and smart aleck humor. Much to my entertainment, newbie director-writer Kirk De Marco is a true fan of space oaters as he makes reference (some subtle, some decidedly not) to such classics as 2001,” “Apollo 13,” “Planet of the Apes” “The Right Stuff” and “Airplane II” (“I picked the wrong day to give up bananas,” intones Ham’s friend and mentor Houston (Carlos Alazraqui)). The script sometimes has to force replacing “chimp” for “man,” as in “chimped space mission,” but it works often enough not to be annoying.
The vocal cast fits the characters quite nicely with Andy Samberg giving the right tone of almost overbearing cocky self-assuredness to Ham. Cheryl Hines is equally spot-on as the mission’s lieutenant Luna and her animated persona holds a strong resemblance to Kim Hunter’s Zira from the original Planet of the Apes (1968).” The ever reliable Patrick Warburton gives authoritative (though usually ignored) voice to his soldierly, order-following mission commander, Titan. Jeff Daniels has a wicked good time as the planet Malgor’s dictatorial ruler, the dumb but ruthless Zartog, who grabs power over the denizens when the unmanned probe lands on his house. The adventure begins when the chimp’s dangerous mission is launched to retrieve to ship and they wage a war of wits (a one-sided battle) on the selfish tyrant.
While Vanguard Animation is no Pixar (who is?), they do an decent enough job with the CGI anime and scribe De Marco’s nicely constructed script. The graphic and animation team lend their deft hands in the well-done attention to details. Every character is fully developed animation, attitude and voice and I especially enjoyed the goofy trio of mission scientists. “Space Chimps” is a good addition to this summer’s family movie entertainment with its meaningful messages made appealing by a solid sense of humor. I give it a B.
Laura did not see this film.
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