Dir: Kirk De Micco. US. 2008. 81 mins.
An amiable animated tale in which a group of chimpanzees is sent to a faraway planet to test its viability for life but ends up freeing an enslaved alien populace, Space Chimps is, in terms of plotting, a throwback to the animation of two decades ago, when lapses in storytelling could be colourfully papered over and excused as merely part of the medium.
While it will open in the US against no fresh family film competition, it is still one of the most difficult weekends of the season with The Dark Knight also being unleashed. Sensing its lack of bite or grand narrative hook, animation fans outside the core family demographic may deem it inessential viewing, or simply go instead for a repeat trip to Wall-E. Last year, Fox had a huge late-July animated hit with The Simpsons, but Space Chimps will see the bulk of its business in home video and ancillary markets. An absence of voice star power will resign it to middling international returns.
After an unmanned American space probe gets sucked into a wormhole and lands on a faraway planet, NASA prepares to send a group of chimpanzees into outer space to try re-establish contact with it. Rascally, carefree circus performer Ham III (Andy Samberg), the grandson of the first chimpanzee astronaut, is recruited to join the mission along with Titan (Patrick Warburton) and Luna (Cheryl Hines).
When the chimps land, they discover Zartog (Jeff Daniels) has appropriated the powers of the crashed space probe and enslaved his peers. Titan is captured, and so with 24 hours until their craft automatically relaunches back for Earth, Ham and Luna must work to thwart Zartog's plans.
The directorial debut of Kirk De Micco, who has a story and co-producing credit on 2005's Racing Stripes, Space Chimps feels sketched out in very arbitrary fashion. It makes little sense that the space probe becomes a sort of catch-all instrument of torture and harassment - one that Zartog sometimes fully commands, and other times struggles with.
The main stories coalesce sooner rather than later, but the script centralises conflict, funnelling it in an awkward fashion through a single Senator, who even school-age children can grasp wouldn't be able to make good on his threats to immediately close down all space exploration. These narrative pendulum swings illustrate, in contrasting fashion, the care, depth and shading given to storylines by Pixar and creators of other top-shelf animated fare. In design, some of the colour schemes and shading of the movie don't seem to totally match.
Samberg, still best known to Stateside audiences for his small-screen work on Saturday Night Live. If there's a scene-stealer, it's Chenoweth, who makes a big impression as the diminutive Kilowatt, a huge-headed, high-voiced creature whose cranium lights up when afraid.
Daniels' take on Zartog eschews more streamlined, straightforward villainy in favour of wishy-washiness. Sometimes the character terrorizes his peers, threatening to dip them in a lava-like substance, but he also pleads like a child with Titan to teach him more about his weapon, undercutting any lasting or sincere dramatic tension.
In association with
The Weinstein Company
20th Century Fox
John H. Williams
Kirk De Micco and Robert Moreland
Kirk De Micco
Director of photography
Main voice cast