Running Time: 81 minutes
Rated: Rated G
Space Chimps is another light-weight addition to a plethora of animations designed to keep very young children in front of the TV screen while their parents make tea or sleep in of a morning. That being said, Space Chimps contains minimal violence and introduces young audiences to a number of genial and generally engaging characters, most of whom are derivative.
Ham 111 (Andy Samberg) is a circus chimp who each night is blown out of a cannon into the sky, where he zooms and cavorts briefly in the freedom of space before crashing to earth, not always on target.
Ham's grandfather was Ham 1, a real life chimpanzee launched into space by NASA in 1961, to test whether he and his relatives - humans - could withstand the pressures of space travel. Ham 111 has no such aspirations. As a circus performer he's happy with the high-jinks that draw gasps of admiration from the audience and his handlers during 'splashdown'. But all this is about to change.
When an expensive space probe is sucked into a wormhole in space, and crash-lands on a seemingly habitable planet, the NASA agency funding the billions-dollar project is keen to follow, but only if the voyage through the wormhole is safe - for humans, at least. To retrieve the probe and its information, who better to explore where no human has been before, than a crew of specially trained astro-chimps that includes Ham 111, the grandson of a hero?
With greatness thrust upon him by the media-hungry senator (Stanley Tucci) in charge of the programme, Ham is reluctantly blasted off into space with the ship's square-jawed, barrel-chested, know-it-all Commander, Titan (Patrick Watrburton), and his attractive, commonsensical Lieutenant, Luna (Cheryl Hines), to whom Ham takes a shine. But at this point, Space Chimps relinquishes originality and settles for a very run-of-the-mill storyline.
The planet with three suns is part Tellytubby-land, and part Disneyesque desert, all of it under the rule of Lord Zartig (Jeff Daniels), a Jabba the Hutt-type dictator who is inspired by the time capsule on the probe to build himself a city modelled on those of earth, and plot the destruction of most of his population during an eclipse of the three suns. Even Titan falls foul of his fiendish machinations, leaving the fate of the planet, its inhabitants, and the three astrochimps in the hands of the free-wheeling Ham, who despite self-doubt discovers he has inherited the heroic genes of his forebear.
Very small children will enjoy Space Chimps, and parents will be amused by some of the verbal wisecracks, and a sequence in the 'Dark Cloud of Id' where Ham is psychoanalysed, to little effect, by Lunar. There is a charming bulb-like character called Kilowatt (Kristen Chenoweth) who glows in the dark, and has an amazing vocal range. But there is very little to stir the imagination of older children.
There are glimpses of what could have been. Ham mentions in a jokey aside that the DNA of humans and chimpanzees is remarkably similar, 99.99
, and when the chimps try to communicate with people, what we hear sounds like gibberish - a reminder (as in Happy Feet) that not all intelligent life in the world speaks the same language.
Despite the grandness of its homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and the real life monkeys that made space travel possible, Space Chimps is earthbound and ordinary, short changing young viewers, who deserve and generally receive better.
Village RoadshowOut September 26
Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.