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Astronaut helps launch 'Fly Me'

August 14, 2008|Lea Lion | Times Staff Writer

If you were around in July of 1969, chances are you remember exactly where you were when Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, touched down in the lunar Sea of Tranquillity and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. took their first steps on the moon.

Now the Eagle has landed again, re-imagined, for a new generation. The 3-D animated film "Fly Me to the Moon" tells the fantastical tale of a young fly named Nat who stows away aboard Apollo 11 with a couple of his buddies and accompanies Armstrong on the moonwalk. The movie, which opens Friday, boasts some real star wattage, featuring the voices of Kelly Ripa, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry and Nicollette Sheridan -- though none fly quite as high as the street (or rather space) cred of Aldrin, who stars as himself.

It may come as a surprise that someone who is more accustomed to taking orders from NASA than Hollywood directors would choose to appear in a children's film, but Aldrin has been a longtime advocate for both space exploration and education. In fact, he has authored a children's book, "Reaching for the Moon," which encourages young readers to aim high.

"Fly Me to the Moon," filmed in 3-D, mixes sound bites from NASA transcripts with the chatter of cartoon insects. "Everything that has to do with the space program, the rocket, the design of the interior of the capsule, the lunar module, is based on diagrams from NASA," says director Ben Stassen. "All of the dialogue and the exchange between Mission Control and the astronauts are transcripts from the actual mission."

But the movie is hardly a documentary.

"We wanted a subject matter that would appeal to a family audience," Stassen says. "Hopefully, the kids will like it, but I hope the parents who accompany the kids to the theater will enjoy it also, for nostalgia if for nothing else."

At the film's premiere at the Directors Guild of America Theater in Los Angeles last week, both camps looked satisfied. When a spacecraft appeared to blast off over the heads of the multi-generational audience, there were simultaneous shouts of "Awesome!" from the 3-D glasses-wearing crowd. Afterward, the 78-year-old Aldrin, who looked dapper in a hand-tailored plaid suit, greeted admirers young and old.

Aldrin said he expected there would be plenty of opportunities to experience zero gravity as well as fly around the moon. And he offered one far-fetched prediction.

"I am trying to get people to realize that maybe 20 or 30 years from now, we will be sending people to Mars, and they are just about being born now," he said. "And I am trying to convince people that this is going to be a permanent movement from Earth to somewhere else, like the Mayflower."

While reminding the audience to reach for the stars, Aldrin took care to say that he does not expect his own 19-year-old grandson, who accompanied his grandfather to the premiere, to follow in his famous footsteps.

As he put it, "You need to chart your own course."


'Fly Me to the Moon'

here: 3-D theaters nationwide

When: Opens Friday

nfo: www.flymetothemoon

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