Never pick a fight with an Australian. Lesson. Fucking. Learned.
This one hurt, folks. Space Chimps manages to encapsulate so much of what has gone wrong with 21st century animation that I almost feel like if I burned the DVD all those sins would just evaporate as the spell was lifted. It’s awful, but it’s awful in so many different ways at once that it has inestimable value as a teaching tool. I feel like you could teach an animation course on what not to do based on this movie alone. This is the first movie by Vanguard Animation that I’ve reviewed on this blog as I’ve not had the unalloyed pleasure of viewing Valiant, Happily N’Ever After or Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back….
Sorry. When I typed that last one I felt an ice-cold shudder and had to go check that all the doors and windows are locked. Anyway, Vanguard is at the rearguard of modern American animation and was founded by John H. Williams who is, as the DVD cover is quick to remind us, one of the primates who brought us Shrek. And I have one question. What the hell is Shrek? Shrek? Sounds like an Eastern European currency. Boris bought a red cabbage and a bottle of vodka for three shrek.
So the movie begins with the camera zooming through space and a narrator telling us “Since the dawn of time, space flight has been a dream. The rocket made it a reality. But before man braved that first giant step, the brave stepped into the rocket. And the brave were chimps.”
The narrator then tells the story of Ham the Chimp, the first chimpanzee in space (which is true) and calls him “the first American astronaut” (which is not, he was from Cameroon). We now cut to his grandson Ham III who’s working as a circus chimp and is voiced by OH GOD PLEASE NO SAY IT AIN’T SO…
Andy, you’re better than this. Please. Please just come home. You don’t have to live like this. Listen, I brought Sting to convince you!
So Ham spends his days getting shot out of a cannon for the entertainment of circus patrons under the watchful eye of his mentor, an older chimp named Houston (Carlos Alazraqui) with whom he converses in a strange language consisting entirely of clichés and simian-puns. Ham gets shot up into the air and then begins to plummet down again, while Houston watches him through a pair of binoculars and mutters “No monkey business”.
“Monkey business” apparently means “defying the laws of goddamn physics” as Ham starts moon-walking in mid air and flying around evidently under his own power before crashing into the band section while the black-eyed soulless CGI audience members look on in blank indifference.
Okay, so, we need to talk about this animation. Like, right now. Before it kills somebody. The animation in this thing is like a wedding cake. It comes in tiers. Different groups of characters are animated with vastly different levels of skill and competence (this probably has something to do with another three production companies being involved along with Vanguard). Tier 1 is the chimps.
Now the chimps are…fine. Little generic perhaps, and Comet (the one on the left) and Ham(centre) are pretty much identical but…okay, right? Look, they look like chimps and they don’t look awful. What more can you reasonably ask for? Tier 2 is the main human characters which are, well…
…pretty bad. And then there’s Tier 3 which are the background human characters who look they wandered in from a version of The Sims circa 2004.
We cut to outer space where an unmanned probe is helpfully spouting exposition into the void and telling us that it is called Infinity and is on a mission to find life. The massive blue wormhole that everyone knows is just past the moon sucks the probe in and it emerges on the other side of the universe and lands on a nearby planet, presumably so it can find some aliens to turn it into V’Ger. The probe lands and encounters…oh fuck. Welcome to Tier 4 everybody.
The alien designs are just…ugh. It’s the colour and the texture and the fact that manages to be so strikingly ugly while being horribly generic at the same time. And without a doubt the worst of the bunch is Zartog.
Zartog is possibly the worst villain in any movie I have ever reviewed. Claudandus? His plan made no sense but at least he had a suitably menacing vocal performance. Even Foodfight had Christopher Lloyd and Eva Longoria hamming it up like William Shatner in a butcher shop. Zartog, (who is voiced by Jeff Daniels of all people) has nothing. There is nothing positive about this character. He’s not scary. He’s not funny. He’s not entertaining. He’s not remotely likeable or appealing. The design is terrible, the performance abysmal…there is nothing for me to praise. The Infinity Probe lands on Zartog’s shack. The probe captures Zartog and starts scanning him but then he makes one random motion that engages the probe’s manual override and transforms into a mobile battle tank under Zartog’s control which he then uses to terrorise the other aliens and proclaim himself king…
That is very, very, very stupid. Firstly, it’s just lame on a narrative level that the only way our villain becomes a threat is by pure fluke. Secondly, WHY THE HELL DOES THE PROBE DO THAT?!
WHY DO THEY EVEN HAVE THAT LEVER?! WHY DOES AN UNMANNED PROBE WHOSE JOB IS TO FIND ALIEN LIFE HAVE A FUNCTION THAT ALLOWS IT TO BECOME A MANNED BATTLE TANK THAT’S SO USER FRIENDLY YOU CAN DO IT BY ACCIDENT?! THAT IS INSANE!
Seriously, that is the most stupidly reckless thing NASA has done since they loaded Voyager 1 with a crate of assault weapons and crystal meth and a note written in every terrestrial language saying “Using these will make you cool.”
Back at NASA, The Senator arrives demanding to know what’s happened to the probe. The Senator (seriously, he has no name, he’s like a politically themed superhero) is voiced by OH GOD DAMN IT…
Anyway, the Senator demands to know what happened from three scientists, Dr Jagu (Omid Abtahi), Dr Bob (Patrick Breen) and Dr Poole voiced by OH JESUS HAVE MERCY ON ME IN MY HOUR OF NEED…
Oh and it is such a nothing part too. They waste their Jane Lynch. THEY WASTE THEIR FUCKING JANE LYNCH. THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.
The scientists tell the Senator that they’ve discovered a new planet on the other side of the wormhole and he orders them to prepare a manned mission. But because they don’t know the effects of the wormhole on human beings they decide to send a team of chimps. See, NASA has kept three chimpanzees around despite never intending to send them to space but just as an attraction for visitors (fish tank would probably be cheaper but what do I know). The three chimps are Luna (Cheryl Hines), Comet (Zack Shada) and Titan voiced by NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!
ANYONE ELSE!? ANYONE ELSE WHO I LOVE WHO GOT ROPED INTO THIS PIECE OF SHIT?! IDRIS ELBA?! CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTONE!? DAVID BOWIE?! MICHAEL COLLINS?! JESUS CHRIST!? MY WIFE?!
The Senator says that these chimps are nerds and that they’re going to need a celebrity chimp to be the face of the mission. He suggests Ham I but when the scientists point out that he’s been dead for thirty years, the chimp’s handler Doctor Smothers (Kath Southie, who is a wonderful voice actor but I have no more tears to shed) mentions that he does have a grandson. So NASA shows up at the circus and Smothers tells Ham that he’s going to space. Ham isn’t interested but Houston tells him that this is his one shot to live up to his father’s legacy but Ham says he wants to be the star of his own show and not the warm up act for a human astronaut. And then the trailer they’re in gets flown away by a helicopter and Ham looks out the window and says “Uh Houston, we have a problem” thereby justifying the choice of that name for that character.
So see if you can follow me now because I’m about to blow your friggin’ minds with this plot. Ham is a wise-cracking rebel who plays by his own rules and buts heads with his by-the-book superior (Titan) while continuously flirting with his serious-minded and straight-laced female co-worker in a way that’s supposed to be charming but is pretty much straight up sexual harassment. Yes, he’s Maverick Mitchell, he’s Lightning McQueen, he’s Happy Gilmore, he’s a gigantic gaping asshole. And the movie just sleep walks through exactly every beat you’d expect it to. It is without a doubt the most boring, formulaic, generic movie about chimpanzees fighting alien slug monsters that I have ever seen.
We get a montage of the chimps in training for the mission, with Doctor Jagu noting that nothing makes him happier than monkeys running on a treadmill.
Luna wakes up and immediately takes up her part in the story, which is rolling her eyes at every wacky and outrageous thing that Ham says or does before inevitably dropping her frosty facade and accepting her role as just another box to be ticked on his hero’s journey. I don’t have anything against love interests per se and there are a million and one ways the romantic interest of the male hero can be made compelling in her own right but goddamn this movie doesn’t even try. It doesn’t even try to try. Word reaches Zartog from one of his henchmen that another metal beast has fallen from the sky. Zartog asks if it’s “bigger than mine?” and the henchman says “It’s not the size of the beast, it’s what you do with it that counts, Lord Zartog.”
You know, when I was growing up kids movies didn’t have dick jokes. What a terrible, dark time that was.
Zartog sends an army of toad people to capture the ship. Meanwhile, Luna and Ham get attacked in the desert by giant purple worms and my God this movie is this movie sub-consciously hankering for the D or what?
The worms flee when Zartog’s army arrives and they chase the chimps into a nearby forest. All except Titan, who’s still asleep in the shuttle which the aliens take back to Zartog. In the forest, Luna and Ham get stuck in some quicksand and Luna starts to panic but Ham tells her that they have a saying in the circus “It ain’t over ’til the bearded lady shaves her back.” and Luna says “Ew” and Ham says “Yeah, it’s as gross as it sounds…”
YOU’RE CHIMPS! WHY WOULD HAVING A HAIRY BACK BE GROSS TO YOU?!
Ham teaches Luna how to swing on vines and they escape through the forest Tarzan style which is made a lot easier by the fact that the animators decided to just let them pass through any solid objects that were in their path which was real nice of them. They come to the end of the forest and swing over a cliff. As they fall through the air, Ham teaches Luna how to fall right and she lands on a giant mushroom. Ham, however, lands on solid rock and lies prone. Luna thinks he’s dead and starts giving him a eulogy until he gets up and reveals that he was only pretending and that he’s perfectly fine. Even though he clearly did just slam into the ground at terminal velocity. What is up with this guy? He can apparently fly under his own power, is invulnerable and suffers no ill effects from being put in a rocket OH MY GOD!
Ham asks Kilowatt how he can still be alive what with him being eaten and all and we get a flashback where we see the monster with a light moving towards its rectum just to make sure we realise that yes, Kilowatt escaped through the monster’s asshole and that is just hilarious. Using a special radio that Comet designed for them, the chimps are able to contact Comet and Houston who talk them through re-fitting the Infinity probe into a spacecraft capable of taking them home. Luna points out that they don’t have enough thrust to achieve escape velocity so Ham suggests they use the volcano which is about to erupt because volcanoes launch shit into space all the time. The aliens agree to help and Titan says “Let’s chimp this ride!”
Some days I wonder why I do this.
As they get ready to depart, Ham tells Kilowatt that they’ll never forget her. And of course they won’t. None of us will. She will be waiting for us every night when we close our eyes. Always a little closer.
They launch into orbit and travel through the wormhole. Titan tells Ham that he’ll have to pilot the ship because for some reason the wormhole doesn’t effect him. Ham says that he’s not an astronaut. This leads to the third and final joke in this that made me laugh.
Titan: Are you in aluminum clothes?
Ham III: Yes.
Titan: Are you in a rocket?
Ham III: Yes
Titan: In outer space?
Ham III: Yes.
Titan: Are you David Bowie?
Ham III: Uh… no.
Titan: Then you must be an astronaut!
Titan and Luna are knocked unconscious and Ham is left alone in the cockpit with ever negative thing every character has said about him throughout the course of the movie replaying with heavy reverb. But then he sees a vision of Ham I who tells him to
invest wisely in property and cultivate a conservative stock portfolio believe in himself. But the vision disappears before Ham can ask his grandfather the most important question of all.
Ham discovers the strength was in him all the time blah blah blah and safely lands the ship and he’s a hero and gets the girl and Titan tells him he can be his wingman anytime. The scientists are baffled that the chimps were apparently able to build and fly a ship back to earth and The Senator announces the creation of a new deep space exploration facility to a throng of literally several poorly rendered journalists.
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger based in Dublin. The blog updates with a new review every second Thursday. Original artwork for this blog was commissioned from the oh-so talented Julie Android, whose artwork is now available for purchase on T-Shirts, mugs, hoodies and more at the Unshaved Mouse online store. Check it out!
I know I’ve seen this movie, but I can’t remember a thing about it. That’s probably for the best.
Wait, I did remember that Patrick Warburton was in it.
I doubt I’ll still remember it a week from now.
Badcharacterdesign on tumblr is featuring a contest to design a cast of bad, generic animal leads from a terrible animated movie. I feel like just submitting the poster for this flick. XD
Ebert really gave this a good review? Oh man…I’m seriously starting to wonder why so many people thought so highly of him as a critic. It seems every time I hear his name mentioned it’s tied to a shit movie that he recommended.
Everyone has shitty movies that they still like. Ebert is one of the greats.
Yeah. He definitely had his off days. But he had a lot of interesting ideas about film and did more than anyone to popularise movie criticism.
@unshavedmouse (’cause for some reason I couldn’t reply directly to this specific comment you made):
“[Ebert] seems to have had a weakness for bad animated films.”
Funny you mentioned that. Not two months after Ebert’s death, Matt Zoller Seitz published a negative review for Fox/Blue Sky’s “Epic Fail” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on RogerEbert.com, and a couple of commentors felt it was too harsh, with the overall sentiment being that Seitz’s review wasn’t how Roger would have reviewed it. “I recall that Ebert rarely gave 2 stars to animated films,” said Shunzhi Rao. Particularly sad was Toby Treegoob’s comment: “I miss Roger too, so far none of these reviewers have even come close to the target.”
And it’s true, he did have a soft spot for animated films and likely would have better appreciated the prettier aspects of “Epic.” But as much as we miss Ebert and his perspective on film, we should also respect Seitz’s perspective, along with every other critic’s…
…except Armond White’s: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/437359/bfg-steven-spielberg-combines-social-activism-childhood-fantasy
I just assume White is sarcastic.
A good film is all opinion. He was perfectly happy with stating his opinion even if most people disagreed.
Ebert wasn’t infallible. He gave Home on the Range and The Black Cauldron good reviews too.
But I’m willing to forgive him.
And Space Jam. He seems to have had a weakness for bad animated films.
He gave Home on the Range 2 1/2 stars, which is negative and said that “although kids will like it, parents will be sneaking looks at their watches”.
Also, in his defense, Siskel also liked Space Jam and I have a feeling it was popular at the time simply because of the novelty of seeing live-action Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters. My own mother is a fan of it, in fact.
Ah, that’s the stuff. Sweet, sweet schadenfreude.
I like your content, but I think THIS might be your enduring legacy.
I don’t mean that as an insult. I genuinely think ‘Had the Unshaved Mouse review Space Chimps without having to use violence’ is a tombstone worthy epitaph!
Bruises fade. Space Chimps doesn’t.
No violence you know about.
Good review! Can’t wait for Zootopia…I loved that one.
I still haven’t seen it.
Thanks for the review. Now let us never speak of this again. 😶
By the way, I think I can bring you some clarity:
“YOU’RE CHIMPS! WHY WOULD HAVING A HAIRY BACK BE GROSS TO YOU?!”
It’s not the back. It’s the shaving. You’d think a mouse such as yourself would realize that.
…yes, it’s still a really stupid joke.
Great review! Shame about the subject, but there’s no shame in losing to an Australian.
Though I’m pretty sure saying you worked is a treason level offence in most countries. Unless you made up for it with a later work. Or are just a wondrous human being in general…ahhh, Warburton…
*worked ON it
I could see how someone 8 or younger could enjoy this movie, mostly for the few good jokes like the guinea pigs. Maybe that is why a few critics gave it a positive review.
Yeah, I can confirm that they do. The number of times my little brother watched this monstrosity… the number of times he quoted its terrible jokes… And if you think the animation is bad, you should see the video game.
Yeah, there’s admittedly worse electronic babysitters out there.
“Zartog is possibly the worst villain in any movie I have ever reviewed.”
And now, you look back into the days before Felidae, Foodfight and Space Chimps, and you tell yourself, ‘I was happy with Edgar, and I didn’t even realize it!’
On the subject of Foodfight, one of its creators is apparently doing the Tetris Film Trilogy Yes. They are doing a Tetris Film Trilogy. By one of the men who made Foodfight. No, I wish I were joking.
I’ve been meaning to do a post about tetrisq
I have always been happy to see Kath Soucie and Patrick Warburton in anything (love those two). UNTIL TODAY. Dear god this sounds awful
Tier 5 looks like a walking boob….
I wish I could unsee this…ignorance is a bliss sometimes…
Never even heard of this movie until today, thankfully. I’m sorry you had to endure this horror, Mouse. Patrick Warburton deserves better dang it!
Also, this thing cost $37 million to make?! I assumed this was a direct to DVD movie…
I know the sequel was DTV, but most DTV movies from the 90s (in my opinion) have nicer looking animation than Space Chimps. I am wondering how they thought up the design for tier 5.
I can’t believe that they actually thought that thing was cute.
Great review, Mouse! 😀 Everytime I watch Marty McFly’s “Oh Please God No” it makes me laugh so hard. XD The entire review was very funny, and I agree with you, that movie looks horrendous, specially the aliens. Anyways, enjoy your break Mouse!
Shrek 2 is only highest grossing animated film dom, Frozen is worldwide. And Dory will probably take Shrek 2s record, who knows about Frozen’s yet.
I just at the time of its release
I couldn’t believe it was true so I checked on it. I had to think about it for like 10 minutes before I realized it was true because Lion King and Finding Nemo are both above it now, but both passed it upon re-releases.
Wow, mouse. You’d really think not picking a fight with an Australian is just common sense. Then again, considering what mice are doing to the Down Under, I guess mouse-kind just missed that memo. Them and the rabbits. But at least this can’t be as bad as Food Fight, right? Right?!
Isn’t Shrek a Yiddish word for “terror”? So this was made by one of the primates that brought us terror. That sounds about right, really. And Nit better watch it, if I know anything about apes, he’s in for some trouble coming around here. Though then again, seeing how badly groomed this movie is, maybe he’s safe.
…Yeah, I’ve got nothing to say. Except, maybe that I’ll learn from your error and never incur the wrath of a huntswoman that knows alchemy.
Wow. That does not sound like a good movie. Just. Wow!
Meanwhile how do they know Kilowatt is a ‘she’? Is it the nipple on her head? To be honest I was thinking it looked like a fetus that had put a condom over it’s head and blown it up with it’s nose.
It has a female sounding voice.
Ahh I see.
Oh, yeah, I remember seeing this movie in the theater and it was horrible. I was so disappointed when we left. I’m surprised anyone even remembers it exists, though.
“In the movie’s defence though, it is at least an original joke which is more than I can say for the time Monsters Versus Aliens pretty much ripped it off wholesale.”
Yeah, but Monsters vs. Aliens did it way better. Even if you want to ignore that even on its own merits it was a better movie, the tense build-up(alien invasion, the US Military shows up, some fun visual gags like fifty secret service agents pouring out of a very small helicopter) and the movie we’ve seen so far makes the sudden reveal of the silly means of ‘peaceful communication’ ten times better than what Space Chimp shat out.