Is computer animation still such a novelty that it will pull moviegoers into theaters? Do wisecracking critters still push children's joy buttons? Is "Space Chimps" really necessary?

It's the latest in a long line of animated comedies that are family-friendly, vaguely amusing and typically impervious to negative reviews. Although it's executed at a workmanlike level of craft, its entertainment value resides entirely in the so-so quality of its gags (yes, there are slipping-on-banana-peel jokes).

The film's creators haven't learned the Pixar strategy of creating a resonant story as the foundation of a film. So we get a formulaic tale of a lazy nonconformist who learns to take his responsibilities seriously and saves the day. Pretty much like the story of "Kung Fu Panda."

Only in space.

With monkeys.

And not as funny.

Still with me? Well, then, here goes: "Space Chimps" is the story of Ham III, descended from America's first chimpanzee astronaut. The hero's grandson (voiced by Andy Samberg of "Saturday Night Live") is still trading off his family fame, although he's a mere circus novelty act. Shot from a cannon in every show, Ham has a star's swaggering ego combined with a rebellious streak that invariably sabotages his re-entry. Rather than concentrate on his descent path, he tears a hole in the big-top canvas every time.

Still, his prestigious pedigree makes him the chimp of choice when a glory-grubbing senator (Stanley Tucci) demands a simian crew to search for a lost U.S. spacecraft. With a blustery commanding officer (Patrick Warburton) and level-headed copilot (Cheryl Hines), Ham follows the vanished rocket ship to a distant dimension. Once there, our heroes recruit the aid of a pixie-like creature (Kristin Chenoweth) to battle a comic space ogre (Jeff Daniels).

While the film has its cheerful passages -- Chenoweth employs deliciously silly vocal effects as the space sprite -- there's no effort to push the boundaries of the medium. Everything about "Space Chimps" screams "good enough." This product is a babysitting DVD making a brief stop in theaters before hitting the shelves at Target.

But wait, there's more. In a few weeks we get the opening of "Fly Me to the Moon," about three young houseflies who stow away on the Apollo 11 lunar mission.

It's the same movie.

Only with flies.

Did this idea need to be screened twice within a month?


Colin Covert • 612-673-7186