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Space Chimps (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/25/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/30/2008

In my recent review for Kung Fu Panda, I wrote about the competition between Pixar and Dreamworks Animation to rule over the theatrical computer generated animation landscape. What I failed to mention is that their are other players in this game. Despite the fact that they are partnered with Pixar, Disney has their own division which produces CG films, and entries such as Meet the Robinsons have been impressive. In addition, Blu Sky has had hits with the Ice Age films and Robots. 2008 showed us that there are other entities out there who are willing to get into put their movies into theaters. These companies may not have big-name companies behind them, but it didn't stop them from trying. Thus, we have movies like Space Chimps, which has just come to home video.

As Space Chimps opens, a deep-space probe encounters an electrical field and enters a wormhole. The probe lands on an alien planet, where it is discovered by local bully Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels). He discovers that the probe contains a wheeled vehicle which features many gripping claws, and he uses this to subdue the locals. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the space program is attempting to find a way to learn the fate of their space probe. It is suggested that they utilize chimps, as NASA did in the 1960s. Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg), the great-grandson of Ham, the first chimp in space, is found performing cannonball tricks at a circus and taken back to mission control, along with his friend, Houston (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui). Ham is a young, brash chimp who doesn't take any of this seriously. This doesn't sit well with his new colleagues, Luna (voiced by Cheryl Hines) and Titan (voiced by Patrick Warburton). The chimps are trained and then sent into space. They assume that it's a routine mission and have no idea that they'll soon be facing an alien race.

No matter what some may think, no movie is perfect, as every movie has pros and cons. Unfortunately, Space Chimps is one of those movies where the bad simply outweighs the good. And while this would be bad news for any movie, it's especially unfortunate here, as the movie had potential.

Growing up in the 70s, I was fascinated by the space program. (I can still remember scouring toy stores for toy space shuttles when it was first launched.) However, kids today either take NASA for granted or simply know nothing about it. Thus, it's great to see a movie which not only features a space program (I don't think it's ever called NASA in the movie), but also explores the history of space flight by bringing in the fact that chimps were used in the beginning. The movie doesn't get too detailed about astronaut training, but we do see the chimps in the centrifuge. Space Chimps may not feature the star power found in Pixar or Dreamworks movies, but the cast here is good. Andy Samberg, whose hip, slacker persona on Saturday Night Live can often be annoying, is actually perfect as the petulant Ham III and he has some laugh-out-loud funny lines.

However, the rest of Space Chimps is so lackluster, one has to wonder why this was a theatrical release and not direct-to-DVD. The animation is very hit-or-miss. Some shots are highly detailed, but many show very little detail in the CG work. All of the aliens look alike, as if someone simply cut and pasted the lot of them. Backgrounds are often blurry and when they aren't they are certainly sketchy. In short, the animation simply doesn't have the comprehensiveness to which we've become accustomed. The story also wavers back and forth. We've essentially got three movies going on here. The primary, and most interesting one, concerns the titular space chimps. These characters are fairly well-developed and interesting. Next, we have the mission-control scientists (voiced by Omid Abtahi, Patrick Breen, Jane Lynch, and Kath Soucie), who contain all of the requisite "science nerd" stereotypes, and, in a rarity for animated characters, seem to just stand around a lot. Finally, we've got the activities on the alien planet. This section of the film simply doesn't work at all. First of all, we get no introductions to these characters and have no idea why Zartog lives outside of society. Secondly, why does Zartog build a Las Vegas casino? Thirdly, why don't the other aliens have an uprising? However, the biggest problem here is that it simply doesn't gel with the space chimps part of the movie. We have a quasi-realistic tale of how chimps were used in space exploration which meets a pastel-colored alien world? I want kids to learn about the space program, but I don't want them to think that this is the end result of space exploration.

If you saw the trailer for Space Chimps and your first reaction was "low-rent", then you wouldn't be far off of the mark. For a theatrical release, the animation is sub-par and the story is all over the place. The movie has some funny moments, and it will keep children entertained for the duration, but this one should be no more than a rental.

Space Chimps enters orbit on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are very good, most notably the pastels, and the color is never oversaturated. The image is never too dark or too bright. The picture shows a nice level of detail and depth, and yet, neither is overly impressive here due to the limitations of the animation. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a "kid's movie", this is a very nice track. The stereo effects are nicely done and show a wide range of detail. These effects display nice stereo separation as well. Surround sound effects are frequent, most notably during the training and space-flight sequences. There are some nice subwoofer effects, especially when the cave monster is revealed. Overall, a nice audio presentation.

The Space Chimps Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. The film can be viewed with the "Trivia Blast Off" feature. This provides on-screen factoids about the movie. "Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session" (9 minutes) contains comments from the director, producer, and casting director who discuss the importance of finding the right voice for each character and how the vocal actors influence the animation. We then get comments from Samberg, Hines, Warburton, and Chenoweth. The Disc offers five TV SPOTS for the film. The extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long