Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Children will go ape for 'Space Chimps'

Children will go ape for 'Space Chimps'


What is it about family-friendly space adventure movies lately? They seem to be as vital to movie studios this summer as superheroes.

But unlike last week's box-office bomb, "Meet Dave" — where Eddie Murphy portrayed a spaceship — this week's animated "Space Chimps" is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, at least for the 10 and younger set.

While it's not as groundbreaking as Pixar's latest hit, "WALL-E," this chimpanzees-in-space movie delivers exactly what it promises: an amusing plot and solid voice performances from "SNL's" Andy Samberg, "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Cheryl Hines and Broken Arrow native Kristin Chenoweth.

The premise is actually pretty clever, too.

The story begins at a circus show starring the chimpanzee Ham III (voice of Samberg). Although a relative nobody, he's the grandson of a famous chimpanzee space pioneer, named simply Ham. The kids will think this plot point is interesting, but the adults who remember Ham's real NASA space journey in 1961 will get a kick out of this accurate detail.

Although his grandfather was a hero, Ham III is content with being shot out of a cannon on a daily basis, unlike the chimps raised at the space headquarters. These are highly trained and skilled chimps — Luna (Hines), Titan (Patrick Warburton) and Comet (Carlos Alazraqui).

So when an ambitious senator asks them to go on a mission too dangerous for humans, they're more than ready. Though, when he recruits Ham III for his name recognition, nobody's happy.

Soon, the chimps find themselves strapped in and headed to a galaxy far away in search of life on another planet. And they find life, indeed, it's just nothing they had in mind.

Also released in Spanish:

This planet is cute, colorful and perky, kind of like Teletubbies-meets-Candyland. But paradise has been lost thanks to a native gone bad, the evil Zartog (Jeff Daniels). The chimps are initially there to gather information, but they wonder whether they should save the planet.

The kids will love these brightly colored aliens, particularly the teeny but powerful Kilowatt voiced by Chenoweth. She's a mini-alien with an enormous light bulb-like head that illuminates every time she's afraid, which is most of the time.

The animation in "Space Chimps," produced by Vanguard Animation ("Happily N'Ever After"), is more than adequate, but it's hard not to compare it to the brilliance of Pixar's "WALL-E." Instead of taking the audience into a new dimension, "Space Chimps" takes it on a pleasant journey.

But where "WALL-E's" more subtle and sophisticated message will be better understood by adults, "Space Chimps" makes no bones about it: This is a fun film intended to be enjoyed by the children. And who doesn't like cute animals in space?

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