[Screen It]

(2008) (voices of Trevor Gagnon, Philip Daniel Bolden) (G)

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Computer Animated Dramedy: A trio of young houseflies stows away onboard the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
Regular kid Nat (voice of TREVOR GAGNON), brainy IQ (voice of PHILIP DANIEL BOLDEN) and food-obsessed Scooter (voice of DAVID GORE) are lifelong friends who just so happen to be talking houseflies. Nat feels like his life is boring, especially compared to the events from his Grandpa's (voice of CHRISTOPHER LLOYD) many years, including flying with Amelia Earhart on her transatlantic solo trip.

Believing in his grandpa's motto "If it ain't an adventure, it ain't worth doing," Nat concocts the idea that he and his friends stow away onboard the Apollo 11 spaceflight to land a man on the moon. With a little convincing, they agree, and soon are headed toward the lunar body, much to the horror of the boys' moms, including Nat's (voice of KELLY RIPA), who didn't inherit Grandpa's sense of adventure.

They're not alone, however, in showing surprise about the stowaways. Not wanting them to be the first flies on the moon, Russian General Poopchev (voice of ED BEGLEY, JR.) and Grandpa's long-lost love, Nadia (voice of NICOLLETTE SHERIDAN), order their inside fly at Cape Canaveral, Yegor (voice of TIM CURRY), and his two goons to try to sabotage the trip.

From the approach, landing and then return toward Earth, Nat and his friends experience the thrills and perils of space travel, all as Grandpa and others race to stop Yegor and his thugs from endangering the young flies' lives.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Ever since watching some sort of prehistoric creature soar off into the sky, mankind long dreamed of doing the same. The relatives of Og the caveman, however, soon learned that jumping off a cliff and rapidly flapping one's limbs was not enough to overcome gravity.

Of course, after thousands of years of trying, humans finally succeeded on a blustery winter day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers' propeller driven plane eventually led to jets, then rockets and finally spacecraft that took man to the moon a scant (in terms of overall Earth history) sixty-six years later.

While birds were likely the original source of inspiration that led to all of that, one can't forget the species for which flight is named, the flies. While that order of insects technically also includes gnats and mosquitoes, most people associate the name with the common housefly.

With that as the setup, perhaps it's not that much of a stretch that such critters -- normally not thought of in any sort of endearing way, but then again neither are rats and they populated the beloved "Ratatouille" last year -- are the main characters in "Fly Me to the Moon."

I'm not sure why 2008 has become the year of sending animals into space. Just a few weeks ago, we had "Space Chimps," another computer animated film based in part on something that really happened with the American space program (such apes being used as guinea pigs, if you will, to see the effects of zero gravity environs). Granted, that was just a stepping off point for the supposedly zany escapades and adventure that followed in that intergalactic story.

Here, the plot is also based in fact, even more so than its predecessor, with everything revolving around the historic Apollo 11 space mission and first-ever lunar landing. With that human trip (lift-off, flight, moon landing and return trip to Earth) as the framework, the filmmakers -- director Ben Stassen and screenwriter Domonic Paris -- have inserted the flies in a "boys on an adventure" scenario, where three young houseflies stow away onboard the rocket and thus become the first insects to visit the earth's lone natural satellite.

The result is something of a peculiar little film that's obviously geared for kids with the young characters, related humor (yes, farting and belching join the story's more scientific/mechanical expulsion of gases) and cartoonish visuals. Yet, it also contains fairly lengthy segments that recreate the Apollo 11 flight rather faithfully and in a near photo realistic fashion.

Surprisingly, that very dichotomy isn't quite as jarring as it might sound, with such serious material joining the usual lame "adult" jokes and references (characters using terms such as "Oh my Lord of the Flies," comments about vodka consumption, and a request from a grandpa regarding any young lady flies who'd like to go "honey-dipping" with him), supposedly to appease parents dragged along to watch this.

Then again, some parental units of today's young kids weren't even born until after the Apollo program ended so this will be ancient history to them as well, but for those of us who were around, the recreations are actually something stirring to behold.

And that's not just from the American pride aspect. It's also because they -- and the rest of the film -- are presented in digital 3-D. In fact, the film is being promoted as the first animated pic designed exclusively for that visual presentation. Such an advertising claim is sometimes a desperate ploy to cover other deficiencies, but the spaceflight effects here are fairly impressive. Of course, they can't help but make one wonder just how much of that might be some sort of NASA PR ploy. The fact that the real-life Buzz Aldrin shows up at the end to set the record straight -- there were no flies on his mission -- only adds to that.

The computer-generated humans, however, are a bit stiff like in the early "Toy Story" days, while the cartoonish characters are several pay grades lower than what Pixar puts out. Even so, the cartoonish effects are also fun in the 3-D format, what with the standard array of things floating out toward the viewer (including in a knock-off/homage scene featuring Johann Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz," best known to moviegoers for appearing in "2001: A Space Odyssey"), as well as some cool moments of flying through low grasses and such back on terra firma.

As far as the accompanying story of one such flyboy (sorry, couldn't help myself) trying to live up to his grandfather's historic exploits decades earlier, it's no great flight of fancy, but it and the fairly uneventful vocal work will likely hold the target audience's attention without much problem. The more dynamic aspects of the latter stem from a subplot featuring nationally proud Russian flies trying to sabotage the Americans' efforts. While that likely won't historically register with most kids (who wouldn't know Sputnik from SpongeBob), it does provide for some end of the film action.

Even so, the pic can't help shake the feeling that it's two films -- half a serious and historical recreation, the other half a goofy cartoon adventure -- spliced into one offering. While the latter is obviously aimed far, far younger than the age from which yours truly operates, I didn't find it a chore to sit through, although I wonder if that targeted demographic will feel the same way about the film's more serious, non-cartoonish moments. "Fly Me to the Moon" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 2, 2008 / Posted August 15, 2008

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