Preteens and tweeners should enjoy the wild ride provided by “Capture the Flag,” a Spanish-produced animated feature receiving a limited U.S. theatrical release through Paramount, while grown-ups can be amused by some of the inside jokes and historical allusions. Indeed, it’s quite possible that two or three generations of extended families will be entertained during group home-screen viewings of this antic and exciting trifle. Parents and grandparents shouldn’t be surprised if, afterward, youngsters are sufficiently curious to Google info about the real-life Apollo moon missions that the movie playfully references.
On the other hand, the offspring of conspiracy theorists who have long insisted the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing was faked may be unsettled to see that, in the world according to “Capture the Flag,” only villains and dullards subscribe to that notion. Chief among the former: Richard Carson (voiced by Dani Rovira), a flamboyant Texas oil tycoon — and star of his own self-sponsored TV show — who reveals “proof” of the fraud (archival video of the fake landing directed by a Stanley Kubrick lookalike) while announcing plans for his own private moon mission.
Suitably outraged, the U.S. president (a woman not entirely dissimilar to Hillary Clinton) jump-starts a stalled NASA — and astronaut-in-training Scott Goldwing (Toni Mora) has his long-cherished dreams fulfilled when he’s chosen to lead a team charged with flying to the moon and proving the U.S. flag famously planted by the Apollo 11 crew still stands in the Sea of Tranquility. It’s a good-news, bad-news situation for Scott, since he has to train under his long-estranged father, Frank (Camilo Garcia), a former Apollo astronaut who missed his own chance for a moon mission decades earlier. Even so, the announcement is an unalloyed delight for Mike (Carme Calvell), Scott’s 12-year-old son, who knows how much the mission means to his dad — and wishes for reconciliation between his father and grandfather.
One thing leads to another — in a manner as contrived as most activity in similarly kid-centric cartoon features — and the new U.S. spacecraft, powered by a vintage Saturn 5 rocket, takes off for the moon with three unscheduled passengers at the controls: Mike, Frank, and Amy (Michelle Jenner), Mike’s feisty young surfing buddy. Meanwhile, back at Mission Control, another buddy, rotund tech-geek Marty Farr (Javier Balas), tries to help the adults monitoring the mission — even as he fears for the safety of his pet lizard, Igor (Oriol Tarrago), who’s also a spacecraft stowaway.
There’s more than a hint of “Apollo 13” — both the real-life mission and Ron Howard’s stirring film — to the genuinely suspenseful scenes in which Mike, Frank and Amy deal with in-flight problems triggered by the sabotage of Richard Carson, who’s moon-bound in his own vehicle. The rivalry escalates predictably once the opposing teams reach their destination, with chases, races and fiery explosions across a lunar surface that proves quite fertile for the blooming of plot points planted earlier in the film. But director Enrique Gato, working from a derivative yet serviceable screenplay credited to Jordi Gasull, Javier Barreira and Neil Landau, skillfully generates a rooting interest in his lead characters while sustaining a satisfyingly brisk tempo throughout the adventure.
In terms of virtuoso animation and lavish production values, the respectable but relatively retro “Capture the Flag” falls somewhat short of the gold standard set by Pixar, DreamWorks and other Hollywood outfits. But that likely will matter little to youngsters (and most adults) who get caught up in the storyline — which, really, is no more frenetic or sentimental than many heavily hyped animated mega-productions. And while the children laugh, their parents and grandparents will chuckle at a few adult-centric sight gags. In addition to the Kubrick doppelganger, the supporting players include two Carson henchmen who are dead ringers for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
But wait, there’s more: Anyone old enough to remember the original moon landings will feel a twinge of nostalgia each time “Capture the Flag” cuts to activity in a recommissioned mission control center. Some credit for the verisimilitude doubtless should go to two of the movie’s technical advisors: NASA astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria and Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean.