DVD Release Date:  November 25, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  July 18, 2008
Rating:  G
Genre:  Animated
Run Time:  81 min.
Director:  Kirk De Micco
Voices by:  Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels, Patrick Warburton, Kristin Chenoweth, Stanley Tucci

Thanks to the stunningly creative work of the Pixar crew and even their imitators, we’ve all gotten a little spoiled with the beautiful, life-like animation. As a result, we’ve inevitably grown to expect far more from kids’ movies as an audience. No longer will a simple story with by-the-numbers characterization and a good dose of fortune cookie wisdom pass muster. Simply put, we expect to be dazzled.

And that’s precisely how Space Chimps starts off on the wrong foot. There’s nothing dazzling or even remotely enchanting about it. Not only is the low-grade CG simplicity decidedly on par with most Saturday morning cartoons, but the lack of movement and vitality in the characters themselves, even with some great celebrity voice talent onboard, stands in the way of any sort of human connection.

Borrowing liberally from 1983’s The Right Stuff (with monkeys, natch), Space Chimps introduces us to Ham III (Andy Samberg), the grandson of Ham 1—a.k.a. the first chimp in space. Quite the underachiever in an otherwise ambitious family, Ham III spends the majority of his days hamming it up at the local circus. Of course, making people laugh by being blasted in the air (only to come crashing down for those easy guffaws) doesn’t feel like a bad way to spend his days to Ham III. But even the fun-loving chimp eventually realizes he hasn’t exactly experienced his brush with greatness yet and knows he’s probably meant for something better career-wise for the long haul.

So once the U.S. Government recruits him for a secret mission far, far away where humans have feared to tread, Ham III finally has an opportunity to make a name for himself. Actually relishing the opportunity, Ham III is joined by an overly uptight leader named Titan (Patrick Warburton, better known as “Puddy” on Seinfeld) and smarty pants astronaut Luna (Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines). After getting the hang of how things work on a more serious job, Ham III eventually morphs into a humble hero of sorts when he and the crew discovers a new planet led by a meanie dubbed Zartog (Jeff Daniels).

To say that all is not pleasant in their new surroundings is a serious understatement. With Grinch-like selfishness and an evil agenda, Zartog has little tolerance for Ham III—or his presumably noble dreams. So before long, it becomes increasingly apparent that Ham III is going to have to step up and lead a valiant crusade to get the crew safely back to Earth. If successful, he’ll also help to maintain the integrity of the simians’ space program in the process, which would do his family proud. So will Ham III be up for the challenge so he and his friends won’t be destined for a permanent address in Zartog?

Well, you (and even the kids in the audience) probably already know the answer.

While there are glimmers of creativity in this otherwise predictable production, thanks to Kristin Chenoweth’s standout turn as the aptly named Kilowatt, a cute-as-a-button alien with an oversized head that lights up and screams operatically every time she feels afraid, Space Chimps offers the same tired you-can-do-anything-if-you-give-it-your-best-effort self-esteem message that’s been served up so many times before—and more convincingly—in recent flicks like Kung Fu Panda and Surf’s Up and several of the classic Disney films.