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Ambitious Effort That Fails to Fully Launch

Cover A few years ago space themed computer generated movies were all the rage. Space Chimps (and Space Chimps 2), Wall-E, Mars Needs Moms, Planet 51, Fly Me to the Moon; rockets, space travel, some talking animals, you really couldn’t go wrong.

Fly Me to the Moon had all of the makings of a blockbuster hit: A pretty decent budget of $25-mil, a solid vocal cast, a US & Canadian theatrical release including IMAX, and believe it or not, so scientifically solid was the piece that it arrived to theme parks the world over as an attraction (the film was shown minus a subplot involving Russian flies trying to sabotage the US space mission) and as the inspiration behind a 13-minute ride at several Six Flags locations!

Sadly what all of this does not reveal is that the film itself feels fairly flat and uninspired despite some real attempts at Pixar-level creativity scattered about. But we’ll get to all that, let’s take a look at the facts first.
Fly Me to the Moon was released theatrically in January of 2008 and came to DVD the following December as both a 2D and 3D release (but not modern 3D mind you, think blue and red lensed paper framed glasses style- of which 2 pairs are included in the 3D DVD release). It comes in at a runtime of 85-minutes and wears a G (general audience) rating. Having raked in over $41-million, it is considered a commercial success despite being considered a critical failure. It also boasts the distinction of being the first animated feature film designed for 3D (DreamWorks would later run with this concept through a series of shorts involving its marquee characters from the Shrek and Monsters Vs. Aliens franchises).

Written by Domonic Paris and directed by Ben Stassen, the film involves a threesome of Floridian houseflies stowing away on the iconic Apollo 11 moon mission. To be honest when the film opens, the viewer almost gets the feeling they’re in for a slightly more sophisticated incarnation of Space Chimps with characters copied and pasted from A Bug’s Life but as the film wears on, it becomes clear that what I just described would be far more enjoyable than what’s actually there. The three main characters are typical kid archetypes from just about any children’s movie: Nat (Trevor Gagnon), who admires his grandpa’s (Christopher Lloyd) war stories, the brainy one IQ (Philip Bolden) and the fat, lazy one Scooter (David Gore). The trio constructs a small rocket out of junk they collected but Nat convinces the gang that the only way to get to the moon would be to hitch a ride on the Apollo 11, which just so happens to be about to launch from nearby Cape Canaveral.

As much as I’d like to tell you that my summary there omits all of the character and charm that makes computer generated features so enduring, the fact of the matter is that’s really it- just like that. The rest of the film consists only of unnecessary dialog segments, a weak subplot whereby some jealous Russian flies get word of the US being the first to put man (and flies) on the moon and do their best to sabotage things and a fight sequence that fails to create any sense of tension. In fact the film’s greatest weakness (aside from a complete lack of comic relief) could be its absence of conflict from which to advance the plot. Rather than create a situation that holds the viewer’s attention because they absolutely must know how things will resolve, what you get here is essentially a succession of set-ups that pay-off with iconic images of the first man to walk on the moon. It’s a lot like watching archival footage of the actual mission with a few cute little bugs drawn in the corner of the frames. Sure it’s important stuff for its historical impact but not exactly riveting entertainment.

Additionally the flies themselves become a bit of a tough sell because unlike other (much better developed) bug flicks like A Bug’s Life, Antz or The Bee Movie, you have some cartoony critters (the flies) mixed with near photo-realistic and scientifically accurate renderings of other insects (like a spider for example). Plus it’s never made clear if the humans in the film are able to hear/ understand the pint sized adventurers as there is a scene that makes reference to the fact that they may be able to but it never provides evidence conclusively. It sounds silly, sure but let’s be honest here: Had Neil Armstrong discovered an English-speaking housefly in a tiny spacesuit on his shoulder at Mission Control, it’s possible the whole moon mission would have taken the back seat to this discovery! In case you think I’m picking nits here, do keep in mind that Buzz Aldrin himself makes an appearance at the film’s conclusion to remind viewers that no flies were actually present during the Apollo 11 mission. So much for suspension of disbelief.
All in all, the film doesn’t commit major crimes so much as it simply doesn’t do anything to make it worth recommending. Its main appeal surely lies in the fact that’s nearly scientifically accurate to teach the younger kids about the actual Apollo 11 mission and space travel in general. Of course the down side is that what has been created by the movie for entertainment’s sake is either abrasive (Russia can’t be too happy with their representation here) or inaccurate to the point that a real astronaut has to come on and tell us that it didn’t happen… In other words, use it as a teaching tool at your own discretion.

Finally there’s the 3D gimmick to consider. Yes the illusion that junk is popping off the screen is preserved fairly well here but that is assuming you are one of the individuals willing and able to wear the included 3D glasses for the duration of the film because to everyone else in the room, the colors and textures are going to look terrible. Of course the DVD menu does offer the option of running it in the much more watchable 2D presentation hence making the 3D gimmick rather useless as a whole.

Recommended as a rental if all the top tier CG pieces you’ve been looking for are unavailable.