When Space Chimps was released in theaters, it had the double whammy of going up against The Dark Knight and being pretty lousy. Now that it is out on DVD, it will have a better chance of finding an audience. It’s still pretty lousy, though.
Space Chimps takes a basic plot premise, throws in some basic CG animation, adds a few basic monkey jokes and puns, and comes up with a basic animated film that a basic six-year old might enjoy. Everyone else will think it sucks. Except Roger Ebert that is, who is quoted in the DVD’s promotional material as having enjoyed this harmless but very weak effort.
The basic plot premise is not that chimps go into space. That actually has some potential. Unfortunately, writers Kirk De Micco (Racing Stripes) and Robert Moreland (Happily N’Ever After), use the old stand-by of a slacker wise-ass in a serious situation growing up, helping out, and saving the day. In this case, the slacker is Ham III (voiced by Andy Samberg), the grandson of Ham, the first chimp into space. Ham III works in a circus being shot out of a cannon and has no interest in furthering his family legacy.
After a space probe disappears through a black hole, NASA decides to send a team of chimps though the black hole to see if it is safe for humans. A senator (Stanley Tucci) sees an opportunity to gain some PR from the program and recruits Ham to go along with on the mission with Titan (Patrick Warburton) and Luna (Cheryl Hines), who are the serious kind of chimps in space. This leads to the usual clash that you see in movies like this, only in this case, the clash is between chimps who are going to go through a black hole.
When the mission makes it through the black hole (whoops, spoiler!) and arrives on a planet on the other side, the team meets Zartog (Jeff Daniels) an alien who is ruling over the other aliens using the technology from the first space probe. The team has to band together, defeat Zartog, and get back home with the help of Killowatt (Kristin Chenoweth), an alien who looks different than the other aliens and also glows when she’s scared.
This is all sorta borderline stupid, but would probably pass by unnoticed if the animation and jokes were better. Both are pretty mediocre. No real subtlety in either and despite some puns thrown in mostly for the parents, the kids (and young ones at that) will be the only ones who see anything fresh here. In a year when Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda both have better animation, more interesting plots, and better scripts, Space Chimps probably shouldn’t really have any audience, no matter how small.
Space Chimps is like one of those direct-to-DVD Disney movies. It will probably entertain a small non-discerning child while you fix dinner, but it’s not going to do anything at all for their parents or older siblings. Use the money you would spend on this to buy a second copy of Wall-E for your other room.
In a nice bit of symmetry, the lousy movie Space Chimps is given a pretty lousy DVD release. The best thing I can say about it is that it is one of those discs where you can flip it over and watch it either in widescreen (which you should) or full screen (which you should not). I would never watch this movie, or any movie, in full screen since it is a sin for which there is no forgiveness, but at least you have the option and I’m all for choices.
There is almost nothing else on the disc worth mentioning. A nine minute “Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session” featurette focuses on the voice actors and serves as the only behind-the-scenes info about the project. It’s not particularly good, although I did get a kick on the producer and director saying that Cheryl Hines was helped by her improv background and then ten seconds later Hines saying doing the voice work was completely different than doing improv.
That’s really all there is if you ignore the still gallery and the various trailers. The trailers are listed individually on the menu so it seems like more, but they are very similar. It’s a shockingly small amount of extras and the lack of a commentary, making-of, or anything of that nature makes this an even worse value than normal.
The problem with Space Chimps is that there are just too many alternatives out there. You don’t have to get this and it isn’t good enough to warrant passing up something from Pixar or Disney that you don’t have in your collection yet. If you must get it, stick to a rental for your young child.