Among the pop culture references found in "Space Chimps": David Bowie, "2001", "Airplane!", "Beverly Hills Cop", "The Right Stuff," Yello's "Oh Yeah," breakdancing, and the Macarena. You know, everything the kids just love these days.
Add in the old joke about how it's not the size, but how you use it (seriously, movie?), and you're left wondering what the makers of "Space Chimps" were thinking. Could they be trying too hard to look hip in this post-"Shrek" world where the reference is the punchline, bones thrown to parents as a reward for bringing their kids to the multiplex? Could they be attempting to amuse themselves while stuck making a soulless kiddie flick, curious to see how many over-kids'-heads bits they could sneak into the film? Could they just be terrible filmmakers who don't know how to properly make family entertainment?
Hmm. Now we're on to something. "Space Chimps" is the third effort from Vanguard Animation, well on track to becoming the weakest of all Pixar wannabes; their first two movies were the forgettably decent "Valiant" and the unforgettably awful "Happily N'Ever After." The film's director/co-writer, Kirk De Micco, makes his directorial debut here and has among his scripting credits a series of duds: "Quest for Camelot," "Racing Stripes," and the direct-to-video "Here Comes Peter Cottontail: The Movie." The other writer, Rob Moreland, gave us the aforementioned "Happily N'Ever After." The presence of a Macarena joke suddenly makes sense.
There's nothing likable, memorable, or even competent about "Space Chimps," but at least it's short. The animation is curiously clumsy for a CG work - the characters fail to blend in with the backgrounds, like Colorforms pressed randomly against flat artwork. One of the chimps looks depressingly like Michael Jackson. Detail is minimal, yet there's no sense of style in the simplicity. Aliens are uninventive blobs that all look like, which is fine, since they're given uninventive names like "Zartog" (thus obeying the rule that all bad science fiction names are two random syllables smushed together).
The story, too, is a barely-there mess of cliché and minimal effort. Ham III (voiced by a not-really-trying Andy Samberg) is a cocky daredevil chimp using his heritage (he's the grandson of the first chimp in space) to promote his cheapjack circus antics. Meanwhile, a NASA space probe has disappeared into a wormhole and crashed on a planet across the universe; further investigation would be too dangerous for humans, so it's decided to send specially trained chimps. As a PR stunt, Ham III is chosen to accompany beefy commander Titan (Patrick Warburton, whose now-formulaic casting reveals the limits of the character: he's big and serious and cocky, the end) and navigator Luna (Cheryl Hines).
They arrive on the planet Malgor (accompanied by a joke about how it looks like Barstow, because kids just love jokes about places they've never heard of!), where they discover the probe has been commandeered by blobby space bully Zartog (Jeff Daniels), who uses the machine to conquer the planet - and build a shrine to himself that looks like a Las Vegas casino (kids love Vegas!). Titan gets captured and is repeatedly almost dunked in some sort of insta-freeze pond Zartog uses to dispense with his detractors. Ham and Luna meet what's supposed to be a walking lightbulb (Kristen Chenoweth) who shrieks obnoxiously at any sign of danger and, later, gets pooped out the back end of a toothy alien beast.
Back on Earth, a corrupt Senator (Stanley Tucci) uses the supposed failure of the mission to revamp NASA into "one of those places where you paint your own plates." Kids love jokes about corrupt Senators and ceramics.
It all feels like it was written in one quick weekend, and looks like it was animated before the next Friday. Kid-friendly themes are familiar, half-baked, and sometimes questionable ("don't be a selfish twit", "a smart mouth beats years of training every time", etc.). Most of the pop culture jokes were probably added in a Red Bull-fueled ad-lib rush of post-production (lip sync is often quite off, suggesting many jokes replaced after the fact). Non-reference jokes all involve bad "chimp" puns ("a chimp off the old block," etc.). There's no ambition to the storytelling. Nothing here works. At all.
But, you know, hey. David Bowie jokes. Kids love 'em.
Once again, Fox has sent DVD Talk a watermarked DVD-R screener for review, and not final shelf product. As such, it's impossible to offer a complete look of what "Space Chimps" has to offer on DVD. If a final retail version becomes available, this review will be updated accordingly.
Video & Audio
"Space Chimps" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby 5.1 audio. More info to come, if a final copy ever arrives.
The awkwardly titled "Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session: Space Chimps" (8:55) is cheap promotional filler, offering EPK-style interviews with cast and crew, covering the story's origins, the characters, and thoughts on the voice performances.
A still gallery offers some thirty pics taken from the movie. Nothing behind-the-scenes here: just various frames from the movie you just watched.
Five TV spots (2:20 total) are also included.
A batch of previews for other Fox releases rounds out the disc. A separate set of previews plays as the disc loads.
Based on what we've been provided, "Space Chimps" appears to have been given nothing more than a second-rate DVD release. Then again, it's hard to see how a quality disc presentation could salvage the movie itself, which will bore kids and annoy parents. Skip It.