Way back when music was only sold on vinyl and a tank of gas went for pocket change, a chimpanzee named Ham donned a pressurized suit, scampered into a rocket capsule and bravely went where no man (or beast) had ever gone before: space. He returned a hero to humans and simians alike.
All these years later, the great explorer's grandson, Ham III, likes blasting off, too. He just doesn't shoot so high. This fun-loving goof-off is quite happy working with a circus and entertaining cheering crowds by being blasted out of a cannon. It doesn't exactly make him a chimp-off-the-old-block, but it's plenty good for this Ham's showboat style.
Then the U.S. loses a billion-dollar space probe in a mysterious cosmic wormhole and decides that somebody must fetch it. Since no human astronauts are silly enough to rocket blindly into who-knows-where, it's time to call the chimps back into service. And who better to lead the mission than the great one's grandson.
So Ham III is forcibly recruited, joins two primate crewmates (the brainy Luna and brawny Titan) and is launched screaming into the unknown. Everybody wonders, will the pretty Luna eventually find Ham a-peeling? Does the crew have the right stuff to get the job done in the face of all this monkey business? In other words, if the monkeys see the probe, will they do what's required? Could this guy be a hero at heart or is he nothing more than a, um, ham?
Groan all you like. It's just that kind of movie!
Ham III is a play it loose and easy kind of guy who, because of his space flight exploits and experiences, comes to appreciate the value in giving of himself and putting others' needs first. And although Luna is rather annoyed with the laid-back chimp at first, she stays consistent and becomes an especially important example of honorable self-sacrifice for him. All three crew members eventually put their lives on the line for each other.
An older chimp, Houston, who knew Ham's famous grandfather and who raised Ham III as a son, tells him, "You'da made your grandfather proud." Ham takes the time to help a diminutive alien named Kilowatt (an appropriate label since her bulbous head glows when she's afraid) learn how to control her fears.
Space Chimps features characters who take advantage of others and exude a general sense of disdain for those around them. But in the end, personal heroism, honor, kindness and friendship win the day.
Ham is obviously attracted to Luna when he first meets her, and he approaches her with a "hey babe" kind of attitude. A human female says of Ham, "He's so cute." He responds (in his chimp language) with, "Yeah, I'm a hottie." And he later calls her the "space lady who's attracted to me."
When the probe crash-lands on an alien planet, a curmudgeonly local named Zartog finds it. The probe immediately goes into, well, probe mode—zooming laser lights in on Zartog's crotch, picking him up by the feet and putting him on an examination table. (It's implied that he goes through an intimate examination that we don't see.)
A couple of sexually oriented "catchphrases" are reappropriated for more innocent purposes here. One involves a quip about a banana in a pocket. The other around the size of "the beast." At the whims of Zartog, a rock band of female aliens are dressed up (or down, in this case) like the girls in Robert Palmer's Simply Irresistible video. Still, while this group is a bit more curvy than the other blobish aliens, they're definitely subdued.
A number of creatures with sharp teeth spring out of the alien planet's surface or hang like vines from the trees. (Ham and Luna jump from their lunging bites, but no one is actually hurt.) A flying critter shoots sharp spines and one sticks Ham in the seat of his pants.
Slapstick pratfalls range from a chimp slipping off a treadmill and bouncing against a wall (repeatedly) to Ham in a rocket pack destroying everything in his path. Luna takes a fall from a speeding craft while saving her friends.
As the villain, Zartog perpetrates the most violent situations. He takes control of the powerful space probe and uses it to harass and enslave the rest of his population. With the machine's mechanical arms he picks up people who displease him and tosses them about or dips them in what appears to be liquid metal—then propping them up like little silver statues. (They all eventually break free from their imprisonment.)
One of the scarier monsters is a creature Kilowatt calls the "flesh-devouring beast." This cross between a T-Rex and a giant slug lives in a dark cave and threatens our heroes. [Spoiler Warning] At one point Kilowatt apparently sacrifices her life to save her friends from the Slug-Rex as it swallows her in one gulp. But she shows up OK later on.
Crude or Profane Language
On several occasions when he's stressed out, Houston intones, "Oh, Lord!" Zartog later mirrors that sentiment with, "Oh, Gruglor!" "Oh my god!" also makes an appearance. Other exclamations include "dork," "poop thrower" and "crudlar!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Ham and Luna first meet Kilowatt, her crazy actions (she sings and dances around in a glowing frenzy when she's frightened) motivate Ham to mimic taking a swig from a bottle. He says, "It's drunk."
Other Negative Elements
A dog urinates on an immobile character. And Kilowatt escapes from inside the Slug-Rex through its gastrointestinal passageways. Trapped in his space suit, Ham complains, "I gotta pee."
In my humble opinion, just about everything—from commercials to greeting cards to family zoo trips—can be perked up with a monkey or two. That said, I still didn't hold out high hopes for Space Chimps when I initially saw the movie trailer. At first blush, the graphics, storyline and even the acting in this animated flick feel much closer to Saturday morning cartoons than Pixar.
But once the lights go down in the theater and this trio of banana-munching chimponauts scamper up on your shoulder for a while, they start to grow on you. Given a little time, Chimps offers up some very endearing characters for kids and parents to love—especially the little glowing critter named Kilowatt (voiced to sweet, smile-inducing perfection by Kristin Chenoweth) who illuminates to the monkey-see, monkey-do kiddos in the audience the idea that fear can not only be conquered but actually transformed into courage.
Add to that good lessons on self-sacrificial friendship, learning to make right choices and showing respect to your elders, and I suddenly feel like blasting off into bad pun territory one last time and giving Space Chimps an opposable thumbs up. My only hesitation? A few banana peels in the form of easily repeatable crass exclamations.