July 24, 2008

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Space Chimps (G)
Chimpanzees with sky-high dreams are sent by NASA where no man has gone before in Space Chimps, a light, fun and occasionally charming animated movie.

Ham III (Andy Samberg) earns his bananas by playing the part of simian cannonball in a traveling circus. Trading on the name of his famous astrochimp grandfather, Ham seems to enjoy his life of minor celebrity and nightly performances, even though his trainer Houston (Zack Shada) clearly thinks his young charge is capable of greater things. So while Houstonís proud, Ham is horrified when NASA shows up to cart him away at the behest of the senator (Stanley Tucci) who believes that Hamís heritage makes for the perfect PR for an upcoming NASA mission. Ham will lead two NASA-trained chimps, Luna (Cheryl Hines) and Titan (Patrick Warburton), into space on a mission through a nearby wormhole. NASAís scientists think there might be worlds worth exploring on the other side, but want to see what happens to chimps traveling through the phenomenon before they risk human astronauts.

Luna and Titan and their scrappy young engineer Comet (Carlos Alazraqui) are excited about their mission but Ham thinks that the humans are just using them as expendable test subjects. Once heavens-bound, Ham is even less thrilled about the idea of interstellar exploration but Luna and Titan are eager to prove they are true adventurers. Little do any of them know that the other side of the wormhole does in fact offer a new planet to explore, one fast coming under the control of the lizard-kangaroo-mash-up-ish creature named Zartog (Jeff Daniels), who has figured out how to work the first NASA probe to land on the planet with unfortunate consequences for the planetís other inhabitants.

From the nerdy, deadpan scientists on Earth to the strange squeaky aliens (one voiced by Kristen Chenoweth looks like the love child of a light bulb and a bobblehead), Space Chimps offers characters that are built for minimum depth but maximum humor. The movie isnít so much lovely as it is eye-catching, the story is familiar but full of cutesy silly flourishes. It isnít easy to be the first space-themed G-rated cartoon released after the glorious WALL-E and this movie certainly isnít racing that Pixar masterpiece to the Oscar podium. But Space Chimps is breezy and goofy, giggle-inducing and attention-holding. There are enough little throwaway lines to get me laughing without burying the kid jokes in pop culture irony. And, perhaps the best possible recommendation, my 8-year-old stepson told me twice during the movie and at least twice afterward how funny it was.

That Space Chimps entertained and amused him and, as far as I could tell, the other kids in the audience, is crucial. That it didnít pain me is a delightful surprise. B

Rated G. Directed by Kirk De Micco and written by De Micco and Robert Moreland, Space Chimps is a mere hour and 21 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.