Animated movies are more successful now than they’ve ever been, which means more and more animated features are being produced than ever before, whether they come from big studios, are international darlings, or smaller films. On the plus side, this means that we see a greater variety in animated storytelling now than ever, with more and more people accepting animation as the unique storytelling method that it is, and its ability to resonate with all audiences, no longer being seen as mere “children’s fare” as it once was. On the downside, this newfound abundance of animation also means that the number of misfires is also increasing. Enter Spark: A Space Tail.
Spark premiered at some animation festivals during 2016, but it was more officially released in theaters during the earlier months of 2017, where it bombed spectacularly. Frankly, it isn’t too hard to see why. Spark: A Space Tail is one of those movies where I would say it’s so incompetent you wonder if the filmmakers had ever seen a movie before, but the fact of the matter is that it’s so generic that it’s more like the filmmakers have seen some movies, but only a small handful of them, and not particularly good ones. The sad truth is Spark: A Space Tail barely seems to even try.
The story is your average sci-fi setup, with a peaceful planet that’s been taken over by an evil overlord, and an unlikely hero who is destined to restore peace to said planet. The (marginal) difference here is that the characters aren’t humans and aliens, but animals. Obviously, animal characters in an animated film is nothing new, but I suppose at the very least, combining animal characters with a sci-fi setting is the kind of idea you don’t see too frequently in animation anymore, seeing as most filmmakers just want to copy Pixar and come up with a single “theme” to set the movie. So I guess you could say, bland as it may be, at least Spark: A Space Tail isn’t about emojis.
Anyway, the aforementioned peaceful planet is Bana, and most of its inhabitants are monkeys (Bana, get it? Like banana!). The evil overlord is General Zhong (Alan C. Peterson), who conquered the planet by means of luring a “Space Kraken” to Bana. The Space Kraken’s can excrete black holes in their ink in what is quite frequently name-dropped as a “Kraken Slick,” which is admittedly the film’s one interesting idea.
So the Space Kraken unleashed a large enough Kraken Slick to tear Bana apart, with half of the planet breaking into “shards,” and many of those shards disappearing in black holes. Zhong takes control of what’s left of the planet itself, while some refugees go into hiding on the remaining shards. The queen of Bana (Hilary Swank) sends her baby son to the furthest shard, so that he can one day return to overthrow Zhong.
Thirteen years later, that baby is known as Spark (Jace Norman), who is under the watchful eye of two former royal guards: a fox named Vix (Jessica Biel) and a hog named Chunk (Rob DeLeeuw), as well as a robot nanny named Bananny (Susan Sarandon).
Look, do I really need to explain anymore of the plot? I’m sure from what I’ve explained already, you can figure out exactly where the movie goes. Do you think Spark realizes he’s the long-lost prince? Well, of course you do, because it’s such an obvious setup (so obvious, in fact, that the trailers blatantly spoiled the “big reveal”). Do you think Zhong plans on unleashing the Space Kraken on another planet? Of course, what else would he do?
To say Spark: A Space Tail is by-the-books is an understatement. This is a movie that takes the book on animated movie basics, and turns it into a Dick and Jane. It never even makes a token attempt to be even the slightest bit more than exactly what you’d expect. To make matters worse, there are some story elements that are grossly underdeveloped, such as the birthmark on Spark’s hand which is apparently a mark of the royal family which bestows them with some totally-not-the-Force powers, but this birthmark isn’t brought up until the very scene where Spark learns of his heritage. Shouldn’t the setup of a plot element happen before said plot element, and not at the same time? And that’s just one of many examples of Spark’s rushed storytelling.
Then there’s the animation. Now, this is a smaller animated release, so I wouldn’t expect Pixar or Dreamworks quality animation, but even with its limitations its underwhelming. The character designs are unmemorable, and everything looks all clumped together (there seems to be no definition between the texture of one of the animal character’s fur and the clothes they’re wearing). On a somewhat related note, there are numerous scenes in which the characters are seen breathing in space, which I don’t think is so much an instance of cartoon logic, so much as the film trying to avoid animating the characters with helmets or spacesuits.
Spark: A Space Tail is just a lazy film. From its storytelling and animation to its uninspired jokes and sporadic uses of pop tunes, Spark just feels like a haphazard attempt at every turn. When the film’s two most recurring running gags are Spark repeatedly stating how being thirteen years old is akin to being “100 in roach years” and a Patrick Stewart voiced monkey sailor being struck by lightning, the lack of effort begins to scream at the viewer. It’s one of the laziest animated movies I’ve seen.