Fox // 2008 // 81 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // November 17th, 2008
From One Of The Primates That Brought You Shrek.
"We got three chimps strapped into a $3.7 billion spaceship, what could go wrong?"
When a space probe thought lost reappears in a previously uncharted area of outer space, NASA scientists set about planning a mission to recover their equipment. However, due to concerns over sending astronauts through a wormhole, the decision is made to send a group of trained chimps instead.
In an effort to increase interest in the mission, a seedy senator decides that the public needs a hero they can connect with and insists upon the inclusion of Ham III, the grandson of the first monkey in space. The only problem is Ham III currently works in the circus, being fired out of a cannon night after night. One crash course in being an astronaut later, Ham III joins trained chimps Luna and Titan on their recovery mission.
Upon tracing the probe, these Space Chimps find their recovery mission quickly becomes a rescue mission. An evil alien named Zartog has taken control of the probe and is using it to enslave the planet's inhabitants. Aided by Kilowatt, a small creature who lights up whenever she becomes emotional, Ham III, Luna, and Titan must defeat Zartog before finding a way back home.
Kids are not stupid. Okay, some kids are; I vividly remember one kid at my infant school who would stuff marbles up his nose. But with the exception of him and one or two others, kids are not stupid. This fact seems to have completely eluded the makers of Space Chimps, a film aimed at children that has all the smarts of a lemming and is, in truth, a half-decent idea badly executed.
Having come up with the basic concept for the film, i.e., "let's put some chimps in space," the writers apparently forgot to give them something interesting to do. So rather than allowing us to revel in some crazy simian action, Space Chimps instead subjects us a plot that never makes the most of its more fantastical elements and a script that is too reliant on lame puns to be genuinely funny.
Human characters could just as easily replace the chimps themselves, who fall all too quickly into genre stereotypes, with little to no effect on the story. The chimps are a mere gimmick to draw in parents looking for something to entertain their children. While the main storyline, which sees our chimp heroes take on the evil Zartog, is overly obvious, a subplot set on Earth, that revolves around an evil senator's attempts to close down the space program only serves to pad out the running time.
Space Chimps ultimately fails as a kids' movie because it lacks a single character for youngsters to latch on to. Ham III is too snarky to really appeal to them, while Titan and Luna are never fleshed out enough. That really only leaves ol' nipple-headed Kilowatt as the film's sole appeal and even that is based purely on her allegedly cute appearance.
On a technical level, the CGI in Space Chimps feels a few paces off the current standard. Nobody in their right minds would expect Pixar levels of quality, but with uninspired character designs set against unimaginative vistas, Space Chimps just doesn't pass muster.
The screener copy sent for review, as is so often the case, contains a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is of a lesser quality than the final retail copy, a fact that is reflected in the score. The quality of the Dolby 5.1 track is a little easier to judge. Though things never rise above a workmanlike performance, there are no problems to report in this department. Extras are sparse to say the least. A few TV spots accompany a short featurette showing the voice cast at work.
They may have been given garbage to work with but the voice cast is solid, if a little unspectacular. Andy Samberg (Hot Rod) does his best to inject some character into Ham III, delivering his lines with plenty of enthusiasm. Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale) makes an unlikely but fun voice appearance as Zartog, the would-be dictator, while Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) lends the film some much-needed warmth in the role of Luna. Stealing the show, however, is Patrick Warbuton as Titan. Having lent his distinctive tones to shows such as Kim Possible and Family Guy, Warburton has proven himself to be one of the better voice actors working in TV and film today. Warburton's streak continues with Space Chimps; he really is the top banana (sorry).
In a year when cinema audiences have been dazzled by Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda, Space Chimps seems desperately old hat. The cheap gags and so-so storyline means that, even on DVD, these monkeys are second-rate entertainment at best.
If you're still not convinced, one of the supporting characters is a chimp named Houston, and we can all see where that's going to go.
Guilty. It's the baboon's butt of CGI movies.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Casting Sessions
* Still Gallery
* TV Spots
* Official Site