If you're old enough to read this review, you aren't the target audience for “Space Chimps,” a movie about chimpanzees sent in search of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. “Chimps,” from the animation studio that gave us “Valiant,” is more one of those cartoons parents at least won't mind sitting through while little Miss or Mister 8-and-under gets his or her chuckles at the cute talking primates.
And chuckle, they will. With adorable critters and icky monsters and oodles of potential toy accessories (to say nothing of a video game tie-in), this movie looks for that sweet spot in every 7-year-old's heart for chimpanzees and movies about them. And the script manages the occasional wisecrack or movie lovers' inside joke to keep the grown-ups awake.
A space agency probe has slipped through a wormhole and found evidence of life elsewhere in the universe. Let's send astronauts! Wait, through a wormhole? They might not survive. Let's try it on chimps first!
Thus, the remnants of the chimp training program are given the job. And to drum up publicity, the grandson of the original space chimp, Ham, is added to the crew. He's been living out his days in a circus act, letting himself be fired out of a cannon.
Ham III (Andy Samberg) is hot for Luna (Cheryl Hines). He barely tolerates the buff, by-the-book Titan (Patrick Warburton). But he does what he's told.
Meanwhile, on the distant planet, the probe has fallen into the hand-like appendages of Zartog (voiced by Jeff Daniels, believe it or not), an outcast who then becomes a dictator. Will the chimps survive the trip and undo what evil the humans have done to these unsuspecting Teletubbies?
“Chimps” borrows from many a sci-fi film, from “Star Wars” and “2001” to “Red Planet” and especially “The Right Stuff.” The script has clever bits about surviving a trip through “The Valley of Very Bad Things,” which include “The Dark Cloud of Id.” That's where you face fears of inadequacy that are all inside your head. The apes fire off insults about evolution (“You're missing a link!”) and other famous chimps (“Easy on the fur, Furious George!”).
Almost every line out of Warburton's mouth is a pun – “We'll just have to chimp-rovise!” “Let's chimp this ride!”
Kristin Chenoweth lends her chirpy Broadway-belter's voice to a cuddly little alien who just begs to be added to your child's nightstand.
The animation's decent (save for the humans, plastic and stereotypical). And Blue Man Group bopped up some of the music. Credit Vanguard Animation for lifting its game far above “Valiant” and “Happily N'Ever After.” “Space Chimps” is more comically verbal than “WALL-E” and less violent than “Kung Fu Panda,” even if these chimps still have light-years to go to reach the animation stratosphere of a Pixar or Dreamworks.