A trio of high-flying chimpanzees is sent into deep space to retrieve a wayward space probe in the third release from the little studio that would-be Pixar, Vanguard Animation (VALIANT, HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER).
Even though the simian space program, which sent intrepid chimps like the legendary Ham I into orbit, has been back-burnered since the first manned space flights, it sometimes takes a chimp to do a chimp's job. Such is the case when the $5 billion dollar Infinity space probe is sucked through a wormhole and lands on the strange planet of Malgor located somewhere on the far side of the universe. According to the data transmitted back to Earth, this unexplored -- but hardly uninhabited -- planet may be capable of sustaining life, and Machiavellian Senator (voice of Stanley Tucci) -- who knows a potential political bonanza when he sees one -- wants to send explorers to Malgor asap. But the potential dangers of passing through a wormhole are considered far too great for humans to risk, so once again it's decided that it's time to send in the apes, those unsung heroes of the U.S. space program. Chimps Titan (Patrick Warburton), Luna (Cheryl Hines) and young Comet (Zack Shada) are pulled off the living museum display they've been part of for years and put through rigorous training, but what the mission really needs is a hero along the lines of Ham I, perhaps the Great Ape's grandson, Ham III (Andy Samberg), who's currently performing as a simian cannonball in the Schlepp Brothers' traveling circus. Unlike his grandfather, Ham III is no hero, nor does he want to be, but he really has no choice: He's whisked away in a government helicopter and shot off into space with Commander Titan and Lieutenant Luna (young Comet is grounded due to a shortage of seats). Meanwhile on Malgor, the probe has been commandeered by fascistic bully Zartog (Jeff Daniels) who is using the Infinity's technology to enslave his fellow Malgorians and remake his planet according to the probe's array of cheesy "Greetings from Earth" images while destroying his planet's environment.
Released into theaters just weeks after Pixar's WALL-E reset the high-water mark for computer generated animation, Vanguard's comparatively modest effort relies on imagination and ingenuity to overcome budgetary and technological constraints. And there is quite a bit of imagination, though much of it is downright bizarre. Malgor is psilocybin vision that crosses the acid-bright world of the Teletubbies with Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, and is filled with bizarre, unsettling creatures (Kilowatt, a shrill, grotesquely hydrocephalic imp who speaks with Kristin Chenoweth's helium voice is the stuff of recurrent nightmares), making the movie far more suitable for stoned adults than impressionable kids. Grown-ups will get the sometimes raunchy jokes ("Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?") and laugh at weird conceits like Malgor's dreaded Dark Cloud of Id (it psychoanalyzes all who enter its vaporous depths), but will resent the manic pace and noise level. Kids might find the sight of monkeys -- sorry, apes -- wrestling in outer-space funny, but unless they're unusually sophisticated, much will probably just confuse them. leave a comment --Ken Fox