A well-intentioned exercise at blending education and family entertainment, the 3-D animated tale “Fly Me to the Moon” ends up only mildly educational and not all that entertaining.
This story of three flies that tag along with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on Apollo 11 is reminiscent of the moment in “Apollo 13” when the TV networks decide against airing a live feed from the astronauts.
The reason? NASA had made space travel so routine, at least up till that moment on the ill-fated flight, that it became boring.
Likewise, despite its unusual story line, “Fly Me to the Moon” is routine and on the cusp of boring for audiences accustomed to such meatier animated flicks as “WALL-E” and “Kung Fu Panda.”
Director Ben Stassen, whose company nWave has pioneered 3-D films for large-screen IMAX cinemas, has crafted a technically proficient cartoon whose decent visuals are held to Earth by cute but dull characters, bland action and uninspired dialogue.
The movie centers on three young pals — brainy, adventurous Nat (voiced by Trevor Gagnon), science geek IQ (Philip Daniel Bolden) and tubby Scooter (David Gore) — who are among the flies living near the Apollo launch site in Florida.
Nat’s granddad (Christopher Lloyd) has long recounted his own wild travels as a youthful fly, among them buzzing along with Amelia Earhart on her trans-Atlantic journey. Gramps’ stories prompt Nat and his buddies to stow away on Apollo 11, complete with their own little fly spacesuits.
They see the sights, handle some emergency repairs to the space capsule, even go along with Armstrong and Aldrin on their historic moon walk.
Back on Earth, Gramps, Nat’s mom (Kelly Ripa) and other allies scramble to foil a sabotage plot by jealous Russian agent flies — the insect world has its own spies, you see — the enemy operatives (with Tim Curry and Ed Begley Jr. providing voices) aiming to wreck Apollo 11’s homecoming.
Other voice stars include Nicollette Sheridan, Adrienne Barbeau and Robert Patrick.
The 3-D animation is impressive, the insects and the rocket floating off the screen and appearing close enough to touch. Stassen never falls back on cheap tricks, refraining from ramming the 3-D images into viewers’ laps the way gimmicky, old-style 3-D movies did.
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It makes for a virtual lesson for young children on the moon landing, though the slow, sometimes plodding action may leave them squirming and fiddling with their 3-D glasses.
The poky space travel depicted here is far more realistic than the hyperkinetic variety in “WALL-E,” but kids being kids, they may wonder why NASA’s craft lumber along at such a crawl.
Of course, science goes out the window when it comes to the flies themselves. Flies live only a few weeks, so our young heroes would grow to adulthood during the weeklong mission. And what’s Gramps doing still alive 30-some years after flying with Earhart?
Then there are the maggots — really disgusting little squirmers in real life, adorable bundles of joy here. But we’re nitpicking.
Aldrin shows up in a brief live-action moment at the end to set the record straight on this whole question of astro-flies, his segment and its aftermath providing a nice chuckle.
An OK launch to the wave of 3-D animation coming to regular theaters in the next few years, “Fly Me to the Moon” ultimately is as harmless as a fly — and not much more interesting than watching one buzz against a windowpane.
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