"Fly Me to the Moon" is being touted as the first-ever animated feature to be designed, created and released exclusively in state-of-the-art theaters and IMAX screens with Real-D capabilities. The entire film is in 3-D, and it's an immersive experience, perhaps the most impressive and least flawed use of the format, to date. The recent live-action 3-D movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth
," has nothing on this one, which uses the technology to tell an imaginative, worthwhile story that will entertain adults and be a nice learning tool for kids. It's a shame that a few preachy moralistic themes, an extraneous subplot involving Russian operatives, and a tacky last scene weren't excised. Without them, this would be an unequivocally great family film, rather than the just-good one that it is.
Set in Cape Canavrel, Florida, circa 1969, three young fliesdreamer Nat (voiced by Trevor Gagnon), brainy I.Q. (Philip Daniel Bolden), and overeating goofball Scooter (David Gore)feel that they are destined to make names for themselves, and set into motion a plan to secretly board the historical Apollo 11 mission to the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Encouraged to go for it by Nat's wise grandfather, Amos McFly (Christopher Lloyd), the trio, indeed, make it on the spacecraft, headed for an adventure unlike any that a fly has ever attempted.
Directed by 3-D aficionado Ben Stassen and written by Domonic Paris, "Fly Me to the Moon" expertly weaves fiction with a real-life time and place, and even goes so far as to affectingly incorporate a number of era-specific songs to the soundtrack (among them, "Groovin'," by The Young Rascals, and "Going Up the Country," by Canned Heat). The Apollo 11 mission is wondrous to behold, showing the exact process it takes to realistically make it to the moon and safely back to earth, and also throws in flashbacks to Nate's grandfather's days flying with pilot Amelia Earheart. While Earheart's ultimate disappearance/death by plane are understandably washed over, it still aids in planting the film in exciting times in American history.
The computer animationall soft edges and popping colorsis a sight to behold, and would be even if not in 3-D. Images are occasionally so picturesque that the viewer finds him or herself wanting to pause the film and marvel at the visual splendor on the screen. Granted, the lead characters don't look like flies, but, then, actual flies don't really have the necessary cuteness factor. Flies also have an alarmingly short lifespan, which doesn't make logical sense here, but this fact is swept under the rug, too, so as to prevent children from walking out of the theater bawling.
In a motion picture with several standout moments, the most magical is easily the moon landing itself. Using historical transcripts as a valuable resource, the astronauts' initial steps on the moon (with Nate, I.Q. and Scooter looking from the humans' enclosed helmets) and Armstrong's well-known proclamation, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," are unexpectedly powerful and touching. Back on earth, the relationship between Amos and his worried daughter, Nate's mom (Kelly Ripa), is warm and moving, more developed that one expects from animated movies.
Getting in the way of the story's even flow is a subplot involving Russian operative Yegor (Tim Curry) and his henchmen as they plan to thwart Apollo 11's journey home. The film is so rich as it is that this one did not require villains; they get in the way of a climax that goes on too long for comfort. A curious scene set in a dirty, cigarette-filled ashtray is also not really appropriate for a G-rated feature. And, finally, an ongoing message about how bad it is to be overweight is hammered home to such a pandering degree that it has no place here. Teaching kids about healthy eating habits is fine, but telling a little child fly that he needs to go on a diet over and over again is dangerous, and will likely cause already overweight, self-conscious children in the audience to feel poorly of themselves.
Reservations notwithstanding, "Fly Me to the Moon" is lovely and beautiful, with an originality that not even Pixar's similar "WALL•E
" can quite attest to. A last scene where Buzz Aldrin walks out in the flesh and says that flies were never on the Apollo 11 mission and that NASA would never risk contaminants onboard is a final slap in the face to viewers who would like to leave the theater imagining that three flies really could take such a journey. It's there for contractual reasons, I'm sure, but it's still a tacky finale to an animated movie that is luscious to look at, historically informative, and beneficial to see in all its eye-opening 3-D glory.