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Race to Space

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Race to Space Movie Poster Image
Boy trains chimp heading into space; peril and bullying.
  • PG
  • 2002
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

People can change for the better. Animals are smart and have feelings. Some stereotypes about Germans.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Wilhelm is strict, rigid, and no fun as a parent. Suddenly he changes for the better. Billy is a curious, hardworking kid who has an affinity for animals. Donni is smart and compassionate.

 

Violence & Scariness

A chimp is subjected to G-force, shocks, dizziness, and other stress tests to prepare him for going to space in a rocket ship. At some points his life seems to be in peril. A saboteur tries to ruin a launch. A chimp climbs high near a warehouse roof and Billy climbs up after him to get him down. The chimp saves him from falling. A bullied boy punches a bully and gets a bloody nose.
 

Sexy Stuff
Language

"Damn," "Nazi," and "butt."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Race to Space is a 2002 feature dramatizing the 1960s American race against the Soviets to launch a rocket into space. The focus is on the point of view of an 8-year-old boy whose dad is the chief German rocket scientist working on the mission. The movie is tailored to interest kids in space and science, as the young boy is so bright, curious, and compassionate that he's hired to help train a chimp to be the first live occupant of an American spacecraft. Family dynamics play a role in the drama as well (the boy's mom died a few years back and the neglectful dad is obsessed with work). Sabotage and greed also play roles as the head of a private company hopes the German rocket will fail, even if it means the death of the chimp. The lengths he goes to may frighten younger viewers. Language includes "damn." Kids call another student a "Nazi." Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. A chimp is subjected to G-force, shocks, dizziness, and other stress tests to prepare him for going to space in a rocket ship. At some points his life seems to be in peril. A chimp climbs high near a warehouse roof and Billy climbs up after him to get him down. The chimp saves him from falling. A bullied boy punches a bully and gets a bloody nose. Some stereotypes about Germans.

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What's the story?

As part of the American space program, a chimp named Ham went up in a Redstone rocket and came back in one piece back in 1961. RACE TO SPACE fictionalizes that story to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at America's first successful launch and recovery of a living being into space. Billy (Alex D. Linz) is around 8 and the son of famed German rocket scientist Wilhelm Von Huber (James Woods). Like other scientists who worked for the German war effort during World War II, Von Huber has come to the United States to work on space projects for the government on behalf of his newly adopted country. In the effort to put a man on the moon, the next goal is to send up a working rocket with a trained chimp inside and bring the chimp back alive. Billy, being bullied at school and getting little or no attention from his work-obsessed, harsh father, wanders into the lab where chimps are being trained by Air Force scientist Donni McGuinness (Annabeth Gish). She sees Billy's gift with animals and enlists him to help, which Wilhelm indignantly nixes immediately. Hoping to take over the rocket-building contract from NASA, evil aerospace corporation head Thornhill (William Devane) pays a NASA supervisor to sabotage the mission, with the intent of blowing up the rocket and chimp. Billy and his dad save the day, with the help of a fictionalized astronaut Alan Shepard (Mark Moses) and other German scientists.  

Is it any good?

This movie has a lot to like, including its focus on the ingenuity, brilliance, and creativity of the team that started America's space program, but sometimes the plot turns hokey. It's possible, though, that the oversimplification of complicated matters may be exactly what makes it a good choice for kids interested in space exploration.

There are some minor issues with Race to Space. For example, the work-obsessed dad who dresses in suit and tie demonstrates his interest in his son by wearing a casual shirt and showing up in a cool convertible sports car, as if these superficial changes could repair their relationship. The plot takes many unbelievable turns for the sake of dramatic and comic progress -- chimps can be violent and powerful, and it's highly unlikely a small boy would ever be permitted to spend unsupervised time with a chimp, but many scenes show just that. Otherwise, the chimps are adorable and amazing, and young animal lovers and space enthusiasts will find much to enjoy.
 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Wilhelm seems to be such a rigid and prickly father. Do you think his later attempts to pay more attention to his son are believable? Does Race to Space credibly explain where the change came from?

  • Why do you think jokes are made about Germans being serious and unbending? What is a stereotype?

  • Why do you think kids at school make fun of Billy? Do you know why they call him a Nazi?

  • The movie is set in the early 1960s, which was only around 15 years after World War II ended. Why do you think German scientists were working in America if Germany was America's enemy only a few years earlier during the war?

Movie details

For kids who love outer space

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