Spark: A Space Tail, takes place Thirteen years ago, as the power-mad General Zhong (A.C Peterson) seized control of Planet Bana and tore it to pieces in the process. Now splintered into hundreds of shards, Zhong is Bana’s evil-overlord, ruling with an iron fist. Enter Spark (Jace Norman), a teenage monkey and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), a battle-ready fox, and Chunk (Rob Deleeuw), a tech-savvy pig. Spark learns of Zhong’s secret plan to take over the universe by capturing a giant space monster known as the Kraken – a beast that has the power to create black holes. If Zhong manages to harness the Kraken’s power, he’ll have history’s deadliest weapon at his fingertips, and it’s up to Spark and his friends to stop him. Spark’s journey takes him to the farthest reaches of the universe, where he encounters great dangers and discovers the secret of his true identity. An action-packed space adventure full of humor and heart, Spark is the story of a boy who takes on great responsibility and in the process discovers his rightful place in the universe. Spark is written and directed by Aaron Woodley, and is rated PG for action and rude humor.
Bad animated movies are bad for an array of reasons, but mostly it comes down to two aspects; bland animation and bland story. Most of the time, you will get one or the other, but it’s incredibly rare to find a movie that represents the worst in both. Cue ‘Spark: A Space Tail’. A film so dauntingly repressed when compared to the bigger, better animated delights of modern day that it even lacks solid justification for its big screen release. Ever since movies like Norm of the North, as well as Ratchet and Clank were able to somehow get the green lights to coax their studios into releasing these movies worldwide, we are bound to get more and more of these lifeless leftovers for the forseeable future. After seeing this film, I am left with a strong taste of two films in my mouth that accurately depicts what movies that Woodley was watching at the time he penned this script; Ratchet and Clank, and Rogue One. The former is certainly evident not only in some of the jokes that repeat themselves from that very movie, but also in the actual setting itself. You could tell me that this was a sequel and I would have no choice but to believe you. The Rogue One factor is evident in the story. Evil Empire takes child’s family to better their own situations. When child is old enough, he fights back against them, leading a rebellion of misfits. Ripping off movies isn’t a problem, but when those movies are leaps-and-bounds better than what you bring to the table, the similarities start being used as a negative, and this negative is far from the only thing plaguing the creative specter in this film.
For starters, this is a very difficult movie to get into right off of the back. The film starts with a brief two minute recap scene that not only speeds through perhaps the single most important scene of the movie, but gives us absolutely no narration exposition to get to know our characters or feel a shred of investment into their conflicts. It stays this way through 85 minutes of throwaway storytelling that misfires on more misses than hits because of its Saturday Morning Cartoon structure. If this film could take five minutes to slow down and soak in the effects of what should be some major character vulnerability, then maybe we could squeeze an ounce of audience investment out of them. The main character especially, lacks any kind of special trait or talent that makes him destined for this crown, other than him being born into it. Spark is the kind of teenager who gets by on being a slacker, and thankfully for him every adversary that he comes across is a braindead moron who you can’t believe for a second could lead an army, let alone an every planet takeover.
The comedy was non-existent for me. I remained stone-faced for the entirety of the movie, and my theater roommates who were mostly kids, did more of the same. It’s hard to get a sturdy grasp on who this movie is marketed for because the comedic material feels slightly advanced and wordy for that of a child, but far too boring and juvenile for an adult. If I were to accurately hit on it, I would say a young teenager of about twelve to thirteen years old would be the right target demographic. The only problem with it is that particular age group will be booming out of their animation phase by that time, seeking the brighter lights and bigger budgets of Summer Blockbuster action thrillers. The biggest negative for me in terms of dialogue was that of the speed bumps that become a frequent occurance as the film goes on. There are these scenes of stretched material that are either used to pull the run time closer to a big screen telling, or because the film is self-conscious about the abnormal pacing that continues to rush us along. The big showdown in this movie begins with about a half hour left in the movie, and it feels jarringly constricted because it packs so much into this third act and leaves the rest of the movie reaching for scraps that never satisfy. With no heart or sentimentality, Spark might as well be a Playstation One video game. At least then it would combine with a visual presentation that underwhelms at every turn.
I am a firm believer that you give the audience pulse-setting visuals first, above anything else in an animated feature, but the production team of this film lack any kind of energy or synchronicity to address the 1000 pound elephant in the room. I mentioned earlier the similarities of a video game, and that’s because the movements and rendering of physical features leave more than enough to be desired. For a movie that is set in outer space, that great lack of visual pizazz and ambition in backdrops can be blamed on a color scheme and shadow palate that contradicts the foreground characters with their landscapes. It constantly felt to me that the backgrounds were done by one company, and a completely other did the character designs that feel jaded and out of place. The two feel like they are moving at two totally opposite speeds, giving the characters a lagging of about a second before their actions catch up to their ideas.
The voice work however, isn’t all terrible. The positivity can be found in that of A.C Peterson, who is having the time of his life in this antagonist role of General Zhong. Peterson’s performance is a delightful throwback to the days of past flamboyant villains whose tones brought a comfortable combination of power and fear to their releases. I got what little enjoyment that I did out of the movie when Zhong was on-screen, and that alone is a testament to A.C’s work in this picture. After doing some digging, I was able to understand why the trio of big names volunteered themselves to a movie that isn’t an eighth to their standards; the director is related to David Cronnenberg. Yes, THE David Cronnenberg. So it’s obvious that they were doing a solid to the kin of a legend, but their presence in this film collectively doesn’t get it done. Biel, Sarandon, and Stewart aren’t bad, but they’re just so brief that they never get time to make the roles their own. Stewart comes the closest, voicing a weathered captain who has clearly seen better days. Unfortunately, these characters go through noticeable gaps in screen time appearances, and their absences cause a noticeable void that grows with each passing second. As our central character, Jace Norman is decent for a kid, but trails in charisma to hold a production in his growing hands. Spark feels like a hero on accident. The same can be said for Norman’s casting at top bill.
A Space Tail would be a fine enough title, because Woodley’s picture lacks any kind of spark or positive energy to get this film past the threshold of forgettable floundering kids cinema. Plenty happens in the movie, but little of which you are bound to remember five minutes after the credits roll. Generic, charmless, predictable, and narratively unoriginal. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones that make you owe apologies to a better animated film that you at one time deemed “garbage”. To that I say, I’m sorry Ratchet and Clank. You deserved better.