Swats New? Not Much in 'Fly'

Mission unaccomplished: Less-than-insectoid flies stow away on Apollo 11 in "Fly Me to the Moon."
Mission unaccomplished: Less-than-insectoid flies stow away on Apollo 11 in "Fly Me to the Moon." (Summit Entertainment Via Associated Press)
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

The makers of "Fly Me to the Moon" -- a 3-D cartoon about flies that sneak onto the Apollo 11 spaceship -- apparently hope to do for the common household pests what "Ratatouille," "Flushed Away," "Antz" and "A Bug's Life" did for rats and ants. In other words, they want to take something that's creepy-crawly and turn it into something cute.

They probably should have reconsidered the 3-D format. Less than a minute or two into a screening of what's being loudly touted as the first animated film created specifically for 3-D, I watched as a roomful of people started swatting at the air as insects seemingly darted off the screen and toward our noses.

Yes, it's that bad . . . er, good.

As an illusion, "Fly Me to the Moon" is as convincing as it gets. Throw away the old red-and-blue cellophane shades, boys and girls. This is not your grandfather's 3-D. With every frame designed to take advantage of a technology previously limited to theme parks -- it's called RealD Cinema, and it uses polarized glasses that look like cut-rate Wayfarers -- the film creates a world you don't just watch, but enter.

Now if only the story lived up to the gee-whiz special effects. Take away the 3-D, and you're left with the three F's: an overly Familiar and Formulaic Flop.

Set in 1969, the movie centers on a trio of plucky young stowaways of the species Musca domestica who manage to hitch a ride during Neil Armstrong and his two crewmates' historic trip to the moon. In short order, our hero Nat, along with best bugs IQ and Scooter (voices of Trevor Gagnon, Philip Bolden and David Gore), finds himself confronted by the first of several plot contrivances engineered to stretch a 30-minute concept into a feature-length film. Namely, something goes wrong with the ship that can be fixed only by something the size of a raisin.

Will our trio of lovable germ-carriers save the day? Gosh, do ya think?

But wait. There's also a subplot involving sabotage by a Russian spy-fly (a thickly accented Tim Curry). Intended mainly to keep Mom and Dad from nodding off, the Cold War humor it provides will likely buzz over the heads of most of this film's target demo.

Still, it's something. That, and the character design of Nat's larval little brothers and sisters -- all wriggling pink and grublike -- should keep the grown-ups alert.

And speaking of disturbing character design: Nat and friends look less like insects -- even cartoon insects -- than like some demented toy designer's fever dream of tiny, skull-headed dolls with wings. (I know, so not cute.) At one point, Nat refers to the fact that he and the other flies have "eyes in the back of our heads."

Except they don't.

A flyspeck of a flaw, perhaps. But one that makes me wonder just how much better this high-tech marvel of a movie might have been if it paid less attention to what's flying off the screen, and more attention to what's coming out of its own characters' mouths.

Fly Me to the Moon (84 minutes, at area theaters) is rated G and has the mildest of bathroom humor.

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