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Film Review: ‘Spark: A Space Tail’

Variety logo Variety 4/15/2017 Joe Leydon
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Parents who make the sacrifice of watching “Spark: A Space Tail” with their children may be modestly amused by writer-director Aaron Wooley’s wink-wink allusions to “Star Wars,” “Starship Troopers,” and the “Transformers” franchise. But there’s nothing much else here to hold the interest of anyone old enough to travel to the multiplex alone. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that even the least demanding of tykes will ask for a second sampling of this thoroughly second-rate animated feature, which has all the charm, and twice the volume, of a barking dog.

Most of the action, in want of a better term, unfolds on Bana, a simian-dominated planet that is conquered, and partially destroyed, by an evil and seriously height-challenged ape named Zhong (voiced by Alan C. Peterson). Thirteen years after Zhong does his dirty work with the aid of a fearsome whatzit called a Space Kraken, Spark (Jace Norman), a spunky but callow teen chimpanzee whose late father once ruled Bana, resides on a shard of his home planet with Vix (Jessica Biel), a Jedi-like fox, and Chunk (Rob deLeeuw), a mechanical-minded warthog, who serve as his tutors and protectors. Spark impetuously sets out alone on a galactic adventure to prove the force is with him, and he’s capable of grand heroic gestures for the purpose of dethroning Zhong. After what seems like a very long time, he succeeds, almost in spite of himself.

The computer-generated animation is mildly impressive during scenes of outer-space spectacle (animation director Daryl Graham clearly recalls the flamboyant spaceship designs in Mike Hodges’ 1980 “Flash Gordon”), but the individual character work is relentlessly bland. In addition to Biel, notables contributing their voices to this lost cause include Susan Sarandon as a robot nanny, Hilary Swank as the queen of Bana, and Patrick Stewart as the eccentric captain of an army still loyal to the shattered planet’s old regime. Film critic Roger Ebert once wrote about “a kind of movie that actors discuss in long, sad talks with their agents.” You can add “Spark: A Space Tail” to that scrap heap.

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