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Space Chimps Monkeying Around Isn't Entertaining

Illustration for article titled Space Chimps Monkeying Around Isnt Entertaining

Click to viewIf, by any chance, you've seen the trailers for Space Chimps and thought, "Hey! Wall-E was pretty good, and who wouldn't want to see the uplifting animated tale of three heroic monkeys traveling into space to save the world?" then I have one simple message for you: For the love of all that you hold dear, fight that thought with all you have and go and see something else instead. Anything else.


Space Chimps pretty much personifies everything that's bad about recent animated movies: It's lazily plotted, lazily animated, overly familiar and, even at 81 minutes, feels far too padded and overlong. The main problem is the writing, which mistakes mixing lowest common denominator jokes (including a strange fascination with the idea that dancing monkeys and/or aliens is in some way inherently amusing) and out-of-date references (There's a Robert Palmer "Addicted To Love" gag, for the love of God) for writing something that'll appeal to all age groups.

The message of the movie, such as it is, is "Space is good and so are monkeys, except when they're not. And government is always bad apart from when it pays for monkeys to go into space. And nerds are good to laugh at. Unless they're monkey nerds, in which case, they're awesome." If that sounds somewhat convaluted, it is, but it doesn't really matter; the movie doesn't really care about space travel at all, except as colorful backdrop for the same character arcs that we've seen cartoon protagonists go through countless times before: "Cocky anti-establishment hero saves the day with his (never her) cocky anti-establishment ways, while also learning responsibility and that the establishment serves a purpose after all. Meanwhile, stuffy establishment is taught to loosen up by cocky anti-establishment hero. Everyone hugs." There's nothing new here at all, no variation from exactly what you expect from the first minute you see Ham III, the grandson of America's first astromonkey, dismissing the noble life in favor of showbiz and endless bananas. You just know that he's destined to defeat the Grinch Who Stole Christmas And NASA (I'm not sure whether I was supposed to think that the alien bad guy, Zartig, was a complete rip-off of the Grinch or not, but... well, he is).


A shitty script wouldn't matter so much if the performances were good, but only Patrick Warburton does anything worth paying attention to - Maybe because his deadpan jock reading of the dialogue makes it seem intentionally dumb - and even then, it's hard to listen and not feel as if you'd rather be watching a Venture Bros. movie instead. The animation is... well, "lousy" feels a little too rough, but not by much; certain scenes are well done, but they're balanced by scenes that just feel unfinished (The press conference at the end, in particular, feels as if no-one could be bothered adding any textures to the non-star characters), and everything looks as weightless and flat as everything else. Maybe we've been spoiled by the insane amount of detail that Pixar put into their movies, but Space Chimps - with character design clearly influenced by Brad Bird's Pixar movies - almost asks for that comparison, even though it has to know it's going to come a distant second.

It's possible that I'm holding the movie up to standards it never wanted to reach; certainly, the kids in the screening I went to seemed to be having a good enough time. But even they seemed to think it was a pleasant-enough diversion, rather than something that they'd ever want to watch ever again. It's completely disposable product, cynically rushed out without care and attention to distract an audience for little over an hour, instead of actually trying to entertain them in any way. Unless you have three year-olds whom you need to shut up, avoid this movie as best you can.

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Annalee Newitz

@Graeme McMillan: Oh man, I wish we had a clip of that.