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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Space Chimps" is on a perilous mission into North American cinemas to compete against "WALL-E" and "Kung Fu Panda" for the family audience, not to mention vie for screens against such hot openers as "The Dark Knight" and "Mamma Mia!" You wouldn't wish such a fate on a dog.
But "Space Chimps," from Vanguard Animation, really isn't a dog. The CG animation is nothing special, but the characters are surprisingly fun and the story is full of enough puns, wordplay and slapstick to elicit laughs from across the age spectrum. Guess "Space Chimps" is destined to make its money in home entertainment, but a better release date might have boosted its box office.
The story by director Kirk De Micco and Rob Moreland imagines that an urgent space mission, far too dangerous for humans, is turned over to chimpanzees, as were the earliest U.S. space flights. The Space Agency recruits Ham III, grandson of the first chimp in space. Only Ham (voiced by Andy Samberg) is a circus performer, more interested in antic tricks and acrobatics than space exploration, much to the distress of his space companions, lovely Luna (Cheryl Hines) and the ship's stiff commander Titan (Patrick Warburton).
Slipping through an intergalactic wormhole to retrieve a missing space probe, the crew falls into an alternative world of brightly colored creatures ruled by an authoritarian grump, Zartog (Jeff Daniels) -- think Shrek without wit or wits -- who dreams of creating a Vegas-like palace around a huge volcano.
This space odyssey sets the table for any number of amusing action sequences and odd creatures, like Kilowatt (Kristin Chenoweth), who looks like a tiny walking light bulb that illuminates whenever she gets frightened. The adventures are inventive enough but do lack the genuine sense of jeopardy and humor that made Fox's "Ice Age" movies box office champs.
The chimp humor might go a tad overboard with a communication gizmo called a BananaBerry and Titan's endless puns using the word "chimp." Meanwhile, a few jokes aim very much over young heads straight for adult guardians.
"Space Chimps" is a bright, entertaining package. It simply is too gimmicky and old school to go up against the best of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.