'Space chimps' miss their target

Most adults like to think there's still a little 6-year-old inside them. Well, mine isn't talking to me anymore, not since I took him to Space Chimps.

C'mon: Space? Chimps? I thought he'd relate. But no.

It's not that there aren't moments of banana-peel-worthy levity in this chimpoverished Fox product (yes, it's very big on the ape puns).

But in the evolution of animated comedies, Space Chimps is the missing link no-one was looking for.

Kids aren't stupid about movies, but they are susceptible to charm.

None here.

They sense when a movie's being noisy and frantic just to keep them distracted; these apes are over-caffeinated.

Kids also need jokes that are aimed at approximate knee level: when our hairy hero, Ham III, encounters hostile aliens bellowing "Death to strangers!!" and Ham quips, "Great name for a band", it's kind of funny.

But to a 6-year-old? When a character made a joke about animal testing, I have to admit it: I laughed. Not him.

No, Space Chimps is a G-rated cartoon for grown-ups, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But who REALLY wanted to go see the movie? That's right, and now he's ticked off.

In cartoon theory, Ham III (voice of Andy Samberg) is the grandson of the original high-flying Ham, who in 1961 became NASA's first chimp in space.

Ham III is working as a low-rent circus attraction when he's drafted into a PR-heavy government mission, in which a crew of space apes must track down a $US5 billion, intergalactic probe that's disappeared down a wormhole.

If you think there are a lot of animal references here, you're right.

If you think that certain characteristics are unattractive whether they're possessed by simians or humans, right again.

And if you conclude that Ham III is an obnoxious ape, you will be on to something about which the mystery midget and I managed to agree.

To bring back that errant space probe, Ham is teamed up with Luna (voiced by Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm) and a chest-pounding mission leader, Titan (Patrick Warburton, who used to be the knuckle-dragging Puddy on Seinfeld).

Ham immediately, and gleefully, alienates Titan, whom Warburton makes the funniest aspect of the film.

Ham's approach to Luna would qualify as sexual harassment under most human codes of behaviour, but I guess they don't call them "beasts" for no reason.

The use of comedic ethnic accents didn't sit quite right, either, but had either of us been laughing uproariously, we probably wouldn't have noticed.

As Titan, Luna and Ham make their way through space and Ham proves himself a menace to navigation, bad things are happening on the planet Malgor.

The power-mad Zartog (Jeff Daniels, who is very funny) has grabbed the sought-after Infinity Space Probe and is using its movable claws to subjugate his planet mates - dipping the more argumentative specimens into a pool of liquid "freznar", which flash-freezes them stiff (at which point, my small guest asked if we could move to Florida).

When the heroic trio lands on Malgor and Titan is taken prisoner, he uses Zartog's hunger for power against him.

This may not be the movie's only moral, but it's certainly the most pointed.

If you want to read an Iraqi-invasion subtext into the ongoing regime change on Malgor, please feel free.

My companion said something about Pliny the Elder, but I have no idea what he was talking about.

Meanwhile, things get weirder.

Wandering about the hostile planet, Luna and Ham run into a tiny Malgor native named Kilowatt, who has the possessed-canary voice of Broadway's Kristin Chenoweth and looks like an embryo crossed with a light bulb.

I'm not kidding.

Kilowatt's an original, you have to give her that, but she reacts to each moment of panic, near-panic and vague apprehension by seemingly squeezing out a high z-sharp.

Eventually, you want to give her a quick dip in the freznar.

My inner child thought that was a really cool idea.

- John Anderson 

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