Movie Review for Space Chimps (2008)

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Review #663 of 365
Movie Review of Space Chimps (2008) [G] 81 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $11.50
Where Viewed: Regal Cinemas Continental 10, Denver, CO
When Seen: 24 July 2008
Time: 9:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 25 November 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)

Directed by: Kirk De Micco (debut)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (Casper's Scare School) • Robert Moreland (Happily N'Ever After) story by Kirk De Micco

Featured Voice Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Andy Samberg (Hot Rod) • Cheryl Hines (Waitress) • Jeff Daniels (The Lookout) • Patrick Warburton (Get Smart) • Kristin Chenoweth (Running with Scissors) • Kenan Thompson (Snakes on a Plane) • Carlos Alazraqui ("Reno: 911!") • Zack Shada ("Lost")

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Is it possible that people are getting over CGI animated films? Is it possible that the plethora of great CGI animated films in the past 4 years and the rush to make Pixar-style box-office bank has finally caused a foregone conclusion of a collapse? Even Pixar itself disappointed with the sub-par Wall-E. Well, the answer to these questions is probably 'yes' and 'no'. Given the time it takes to make these CGI-animated films, the pipeline is already full including still up this year: Star Wars-Clone Wars, Bolt, Igor, and The Tale of Despereaux. But, essentially, the questions and answers boil down not so much to the genre as to the age-old essential feature of any film headed to greatness and that quite simply, as has been written about in these electronic posts dozens of times before, is the effectiveness of the story. No matter how brilliant the technology, the story is what a movie is all about. It there's no story or a bad one, well, it's hard to use bells and whistles to turn it into a good one though certainly many, many people have tried.

…imaginative, inventive, and industrious.
As for Space Chimps, the creation of Kirk De Micco who directed and co-wrote, the story is imaginative, inventive, and industrious. Sure, it's going to be insurmountably difficult to compete with The Dark Knight ever at the box office, but would you take a kid younger than 13 or 14 to see The Dark Knight? Hopefully not! Space Chimps, on the other hand, is mostly kid-centered entertainment with a few grown-up jokes.

In essence, the film's story follows a crew of chimpanzees (which, by the way, ARE NOT monkeys they are apes) gathered to form a guinea pig crew headed through an anomalous worm hole to track a lost space exploration probe and ascertain if a human crew could also complete the same mission. This crew, made up of Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg), Luna (voiced by Cheryl Hines), and Titan (voiced by Patrick Warburton), has all of the makings of an heroic follow up to the first real live chimps in space. Ham III is the grandson of one of those original space chimps. Meanwhile, Luna and Titan, along with mission control expert Comet (voiced by Zack Shada), have been training for a mission since birth in their NASA chimpanzee gallery and training program. What the human scientists and engineers don't know about the chimpanzees is that they understand English just fine, it is we who cannot make sense of what they are saying. Likewise, the chimpanzees are far off the IQ charts compared to where they've placed them. Meanwhile, the missing probe has encountered a mysterious planet; and, in a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz, it crashes into the home of an evil recluse named Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels). He accidentally gets aboard the probe and turns it into his own overlord device using the claw arm, for example, to dip disloyal locals into the freznar – a molten metallic substance that hardens around an object dipped into it, "freezing it forever". Soon, he rules the planet and sets about having them build him a palace similar to a Las Vegas-style casino that was revealed to him by the probe which was designed to teach any alien species all about the wonderful accomplishments of earthlings. When the Space Chimps craft arrives on the planet following the path of the probe it too crashes. Ham III and Luna escape, but Titan is left in the clutches of Zartog's subjects. The rest of the story then concerns the Space Chimps regrouping and helping restore order to the planet their home world has put at risk by sending this device into space in the first place.

The animation and voice cast are well done but not spectacular in any way. On the surface, the story seems like something that would have been hatched in the 1960s. One half expects Johnny Quest to show up around every corner. Something about the writing style and the outdated feel to the jokes and so on, makes everything seem a bit like it is lost in a space time continuum playing out 40 years ago. And yet, it's that very same element that begins to grow on you after a while, like it or not. Below the surface, there is a lot of morality playing out and percolating. The very idea of using chimpanzees for missions where it might be too dangerous for humans is strikingly reprehensible from the outset. Beyond this though, viewers are confronted with the way in which Zartog rises quickly to power with the alien technology at his disposal and how this absolute power corrupts him absolutely. Meanwhile, there's an excellent back story involving Ham III who's spent most of his life showboating in a circus and how he must reconcile fulfilling his destiny, being a hero, and proving himself something more in the shadow of his famous grandfather.

…deeper than most animated films…a little gem in the rough…
On many levels, despite outward appearances, Space Chimps is a lot deeper than most animated films. Which may or may not improve its chances of resonating with its intended audience. Morally, this is a good movie for kids. Some of the antics may be a bit over the top, but these are chimpanzees not people. There are parts that are disquieting at times—dips in the freznar are not fatal—but mostly Space Chimps is pretty tame family entertainment. There are some clever and inventive parts that seem drawn from a colorful imagination. The ending is happy and ties the many threads together. Sometimes, it is kind of nice to discover a little gem in the rough when you least expect it.

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring Space Chimps (2008)
Cast Members
Andy SambergCheryl HinesJeff Daniels
Patrick WarburtonKristin ChenowethKenan Thompson
Carlos AlazraquiZack Shada
Kirk De Micco
Kirk De MiccoRobert Moreland

Review-lite Space Chimps (2008) [max of 150 words]
Give Space Chimps a chance. Co-writer / director Kirk De Micco utilizes a good 1960s-ish story and style in this CGI-animated film about chimps sent into space as guinea pigs before human crews to discover what happened to a missing space probe. Adventure for the chimps on a new planet ensues. Maybe less humorous than other animated comedies, the stories many morality plays more than make up for it.

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