One thing about having a few decades under your belt is it gives you a perspective of the way technology and our society has changed. This holds true for some things that many people would consider minor. One such thing is animated films. When I was a kid the only game in town was the Disney studio. They did create the first animated feature film back in the late thirties. In those days animation was a tedious and time consuming process of hand drawing each frame of a film. Considering there are usually 24 frames for each second of film that comes in at about 87,000 frames for an hour of movie time, the advent of computers to this industry has revolutionized the industry. Animation has always allowed the imagination to be realized on the screen to the delight of children and adults. Now, with computer driven software to take much of the drudge work out on animation the human side of the process is freed up to let their imagination run wild. This has resulted in a new age for this type of movie. Make no mistake about it Disney and their new partner Pixar still have the lion’s share of this lucrative market but other studios have made some fine efforts in animation. Fox has entered the fray with ‘Space Chimps’ it is not a great film but then again the competition is extremely stiff in this arena. What you have here is a fun flick and sometimes that is more than enough. It combines animation with something else people of my generation grew up with; the space program. This little touch of space mission like those we sat on the living room floor and watch really brought me back to a much more gentle and simple time. ‘Space Chimps’ had a fairly substantial budget of $37 million and managed to make a profit for the studio. To be fair it did open in the August when the summer blockbusters rule the box office. Now you can get this flick on DVD or Blu-ray and it is a worth while family movie that is perfect for a Saturday afternoon. Order some pizza, gather the kids and adults in the household and kick back for some light entertainment.
There were two writers contributing to the script here; Kirk De Micco and Robert Moreland. De Micco has all of his experience in animation with one live action family film thrown in for good measure. His stories have centered on such kid favorites as ‘Peter Cottontail’ and ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’. Moreland has a little bit broader range going into this film. He has an animated short and feature as well as more grown up faire of a thriller and a Sci-Fi flick on his resume. When you think about it a moment or two this is a well balanced list of credits for a flick like this. They have experience in science fiction, providing thrills and danger in a story and they know how to craft a story conducive to being animated. Also lets face it; everyone loves movies with talking animals especially chimps. The basic story is sweet but not overly so. It is the kind of story that the adults can watch with the kids and not run screaming from the room. It is about of group of chimps shot into space to explore what lies beyond a recently discovered worm hole. This is after all a kid’s flick so there is no attempt to rationalize anything with a lot of science; just except what is said at face value and you’ll have a more pleasant time here. It naturally contains some moral and life lessons for the younger set. There are themes of the need for team work balanced with being an individual. We see that even a little chimp can rise to the occasion and become a hero. Many elements of the plot are taken from other films. There are pieces of dialogue that seems to be lifted from classics such as the original ‘Star Wars’ almost word for word. While some kids may be more forgiving even younger viewers are certain to notice these things.
This is Kirk De Micco’s freshman time out as a director. He does well but there is a learning curve for any directorial work and the requirements of helming an animated feature are daunting. He does keep the story moving forward keeping the action coming at regular intervals. He also allows sufficient time for the audience to get to know the personalities of the chimps and other characters. This is vital since even kids have to like the creatures on the screen before they can care about the dangerous situations they get into constantly. The empathy factor is in full swing here which goes a long way towards making the movie work. The animation may be considered problematic though. The bar here is set incredibly high by companies like Pixar. They have this type of film down so well that any effort, no matter how sincere comes off as a lesser work. The animation used in this movie is a bit stiff and the synchronization between the movement of the mouths and the words spoke was not as slick as we have become used to. One the positive side the space suits used was right out of the Mercury program that we obsessed with in the early sixties.
Scientist has discovered a worm hole in space. They send in a probe and it disappears. They would like to send in a manned mission but it is considered far too dangerous. So the next best thing would be to send in some chimps. In order to garner a little public relations plus the tracked down the grandson of the original chimp sent into outer space. Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg) whose current job is being shot out of a cannon at a circus. He is a bit of a self indulgent and impudent sort of a simian who would prefer the attention he gets at the circus. Going along with Ham are Luna (voiced by Cheryl Hines) and Titan (voiced by Patrick Warburton). Titan is aptly named as one of the largest chimps in the space program and is prone to constantly making really bad puns. When the get to the other side of the worm hole they find a planet ruled by the completely evil Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels) who is using the first probe to torture his subjects. Helping the chimps is Kilowatt (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth).
The voice actors are well cast here. Warburton is used to cartoon work and his deep voice portrays a not too bright trademark character. The real shinning star here is Chenoweth. She is the darling of Broadway and if you have ever seen her she is about 4’11’ bundle of energy. Her high pitched natural voice is just perfect here.
Fox does a great job with the home video presentation of the movie. It is available in both DVD and Blu-ray which has become standard. The Blu-ray has a very good video presentation in 1080p combined with a DTS HD audio that will fill the room. There are a few extras that are provided including a little game for the kids. This is not great but it is fun.