Dir: Ben Stassen. US. 2008. 85 mins.
The first computer-generated animated feature conceived and produced exclusively for a 3-D release, Fly Me to the Moon also represents one of the strangest misfires in recent animation history. The story of three young flies who stow away on the Apollo 11 space flight, this is a case of the mode of delivery completely overwhelming substance.
By comparison much more colourful and engaging, the recent Space Chimps also sent animals to outer space, to the tune of an ongoing $25 million domestic gross. Fly Me to the Moon has a brief window with family animation audiences, and the hope must be that the novelty of its 3-D exhibition helps sells tickets and outstrips word of mouth. July's Journey to the Centre Of The Earth has turned a profit in the US ($81.7m so far) owing largely to its 3-D presentation, but Fly Me to the Moon doesn't have a high enough adventure quotient to pull in similar tween audiences. An absence of star power and its Cold War-era narrative will resign the film to equally middling international returns.
Set in 1969, the movie displays an earnestly old-fashioned attitude toward outer space and adolescent exploration in general in telling the story of h eadstrong, naturally inquisitive fly Nat (Trevor Gagnon), and his two pals, Scooter (David Gore) and I.Q. (Philip Bolden). Inspired by his Grandpa's oft-told story of stowing away on Amelia Earhart's plane during her famed transatlantic solo flight, Nat hatches an impetuous plan to go to space by hiding out on the Apollo 11, not knowing that - unlike other rocket launches they've witnessed - this trip will last not minutes but almost a week.
Various perils ensue, but Fly Me to the Moon seems awkward and poorly thought out, both in execution (Scooter's lisp makes his dialogue frequently difficult to understand) and conception. Flatly drawn, the main characters seem nipped from Alvin And The Chipmunks (the intrepid explorer, the fat and fretful sidekick, and the one with glasses), and apart from a strangely-integrated Cold War scenario, the script is terribly unimaginative, peppering many scenes with tired scenarios such as female flies fainting. It also never resolves simple but important issues of narrative underpinning, like whether there is to be any knowing human/fly interaction.
Most problematically, the character design is confusing, incongruous and unappealing. The creatures don't really look like flies (in fact, they resemble modified Snorks, from the mid-'80s Hanna-Barbera animated series), and some are different colours, which is never explained. The humans aren't similarly stylised, however, which makes for a clash.
On a purely technical level there is some impressive work. Director Ben Stassen has plenty of 3-D experience, and oversees some great tracking and forced perspective shots that follow Nat and friends down into the grass. Additionally, the lighting scheme and shadow-play in the NASA offices and on the spacecraft - based on actual transcripts and blueprints, according to production notes - offer up an engaging backdrop.
The film ends on a bizarre note, when real-life American astronaut Buzz Aldrin appears to decry as a 'scientific impossibility' the existence of flies on the Apollo 11. The filmmakers don't seem to have considered that this strange inclusion only further undercuts the entire story.
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Charlotte Clay Huggins
Caroline Van Iseghem
Gina Gallo Paris
Main voice cast
Philip Daniel Bolden
Ed Begley, Jr.