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SPACE CHIMPS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Voices: Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels, Patrick Warburton, Kristin Chenoweth, Stanley Tucci
Director: Kirk DeMicco
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 81 Minutes
Release Date: November 25, 2008

“We’re nothing more than guinea pigs.”

“Actually, the guinea pigs are on the Mars mission.”

Film *1/2

An animated adventure about a journey into outer space made for one of the year’s most brilliant films, but enough about Wall-E. One has to find it funny that the computer animated farce Space Chimps was released to theaters only a few weeks after the Disney/Pixar masterpiece. What’s even funnier, if this was a sheer matter of cinematic competition, is that the filmmakers sought to surpass Wall-E with a movie completely cheap in about every area that made the other film a wondrous work of art.

But hey, maybe it was just sheer coincidence…you never know. Whatever the case, Space Chimps is perhaps the most low-grade computer animated film I’ve ever laid eyes on. Lackluster in so many areas, it makes Star Wars: The Clone Wars look more like a film at the level of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Though it has something of a heart, as well as a couple of sight gags that I chuckled at, this is about as bland and non-absorbing as an animated feature can get. In other words, it deserves a place right alongside Shrek the Third, which at least had animation value. I never thought I’d find myself giving that dreaded film any credit at all.

And several animated films in the past, Hoodwinked being the first that comes to mind, have illustrated that low budget CG animation can still pull off a level of magic. The only thing is, the setback in animation quality has to be made up for with a sharp story and even sharper bits of comedy, both of which Hoodwinked excelled at. Space Chimps fails in just about every attempt in those areas, thus making its 81 minute running time seem more like an eternity.

The story, what little there is of one, involves a team of chimps who have been recruited by the space program for a mission designated too dangerous for humans. A NASA probe has landed on a planet in another dimension of the universe after disappearing into a wormhole. Such a thin and routine storyline make it very difficult to care about anything going on.

Among the recruited chimps is a young, cocky acrobat named Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg). The grandson of the first chimp to go into space, he has been trading off that slight celebrity as a way to promote his daredevil circus stunt show. As part of a PR gimmick, Ham is recruited for the mission alongside the hulky commander, Titan (voiced by Patrick Warburton), and female navigator, Luna (Cheryl Hines).

Their mission takes them all the way to the alien planet known as Malgor. It is there where a mean spirited creature named Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels) is using the newly discovered space probe in a scheme to conquer the planet (yeah, that doesn’t make sense to me either). Titan ends up getting kidnapped, while Ham and Luna befriend a light bulb-shaped alien named Kilowatt (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth) as they attempt to save the Commander, the planet, the galaxy, the….yeah, I don’t really know why I’m going on about this.

It may seem a bit unfair for me to be so harsh towards a G-rated animated feature aimed specifically at young kids, and by that I mean anyone below age 6. At the same time, here we have another lousy case of a computer animated comedy relying solely on pop-culture jokes and references, none of which the target audience will understand at any point. I’m still scratching my head over several jokes involving non relevant things like the Macarena and the Axel F theme from Beverly Hills Cop.

Usually, a cast of noteworthy voice actors can bring a lot to the table even in the midst of mediocre material. Not the case here. Only Jeff Daniels stands out with an energetic vocal performance of the chief villain, and Kristin Chenoweth brings a lot to her cute but strange character. However when you’ve got three gifted comedic actors like Andy Samberg (Hot Rod, SNL), Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Patrick Warburton (The Tick) voicing the three lead roles, you’d certainly expect a bit more effort and enthusiasm.

The movie as a whole can best be described an ill conceived concept from the start. What more can be said of an animated movie that’s lacking in story, humor and worst of all, stellar animation? Even the child inside me didn’t respond to Space Chimps, which pretty much means that kids in general are much better off seeing something else, preferably Wall-E again.

Video **

As is the case with most Fox releases we get supplied, this is a watermarked DVD-R screener copy. In other words the picture quality, while anamorphic (Full Screen version is also included on the final copy), is choppy and sporadically pixilated. The animation is nice looking at times, in spite of its cheap quality, but in the end it’s safe to assume that the actual DVD features a more impressive looking presentation.

Audio ***1/2

Surprisingly, though, the 5.1 mix on this screener disc does sound quite incredible. Surround sound came into play a lot more than I expected (especially during a space training sequence). Music sounds terrific, and dialogue delivery is top notch.

Features *

Illustrating that not much enthusiasm was geared towards the movie, and I can’t say I blame the folks at Fox in that regard, the extras are nearly non-existent. The only main feature is a Fox Casting Session featurette, about 8 minutes in length, which features interviews with the cast and filmmakers. Also included are five TV Spots and a Still Gallery.

Summary:

Not much can be said of Space Chimps in a favorable manner. It’s a rare sort of animated movie that never even tries to thrill or entertain, but rather sits there waiting for someone to chuckle at one of the many lame jokes. When you’ve got films such as Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda out there, there’s simply no need to bother with this one.

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