leave a comment --Robert Pardi
This nostalgic made-for-TV film aimed at young viewers sometimes sacrifices scientific and historical reality in favor of kid-friendly drama. Following WWII, the US government welcomes German scientists whose expertise could help America compete against the Soviet Union's space program. And as late as 1960, hard-working NASA employees like Wilhelm von Huber (James Woods) are coping with prejudice at the space agency's Cocoa Beach, Fla, research facility. Widowed Wilhelm is raising a small son, Billy (Alex D. Linz), while contending with bellicose pro-American propagandists like Astro-C Corporation, who are rooting for Wilhelm's crew to fail. Wilhelm's bosses, concerned that communists will win the space race, insist that he implement a chimpanzee-training program as a forerunner to manned space travel. With the pressure on at work, Wilhelm has little patience for Billy's day-to-day difficulties at school. During a visit to his dad's workplace, Billy meets monkey-research chief Dr. Donni McGuinness (Annabeth Gish), and gets a surefire A-plus idea for his term paper. Dr. McGuinness is in turn impressed by Billy's handling of an unruly primate named Mac and, forever short of qualified help, hires Billy for after school training sessions despite his dad's narrow-minded protests. Billy bonds with Mac, who becomes the sharpest astro-chimp in the study, but biased officials don't want NASA's immigrant scientists to share America's victorious conquest of space and sabotage Wilhelm's state-of-the-art rocket. Billy must convince his dad that there really is a conspiracy to undermine his research, or else Mac's first space flight will be his last. This well-intentioned film allows children to identify with a piece of scientific history and does its best not to talk down to them. Though its accuracy can be questioned, its depiction of bigoted behavior hiding behind the label of patriotism and its evocation of camaraderie between a boy and an animal are vivid and well handled.