'Spark: A Space Tail'
The first sign that something might be wrong with ‘Spark: A Space Tail’ is that subtitle. Did you see how they swapped in “tail” for “tale”? That’s because this is about monkeys and it’s a tall tale. Get it? Good. That’s about the level of intelligence and ambition you can expect from the rest of this animated mess.
‘Spark’ takes place in the deep reaches of the galaxy – apparently past the realms of competent storytelling. The prologue tells of a monkey planet that was attacked by the evil General Zhong (A.C. Peterson), who used a Galactic Kraken (for real) to create a black hole that tore the planet to shreds and forced the rest of the galaxy to bow down to him. On one of the surviving shreds was the infant Spark, son of the dead noble monkey leader (and nephew of the dastardly Zhong). Then we jump ahead to Spark’s (Jace Norman) spunky teen years, palling around with buds Chunk (Rob deLeeuw), Vix (Jessica Biel) and robot caretaker Bananny (Susan Sarandon, who somehow lets that banana pun go). They salvage junk and generally don’t have much fun. Spark of course wants adventure and… You know what, this dull, clichéd and convoluted plot isn’t worth describing in detail. The important thing to note is that Spark is a Chosen One who will spark off a revolution for good. (Yeah, the script sure leans on that sparking wordplay.) He gets a special weapon that will allow him to control the Kraken and defeat his uncle to take control of the universe or whatever.
For a movie about the very salvation of the universe, ‘Spark: A Space Tail’ is remarkably dull. Writer/director Arron Woodley clearly strove to create a space opera in the ‘Star Wars’ mold, but it’s unclear if he actually had any interest in these sorts of stories. He steals ideas, images and tropes from every successful sci-fi movie of the last fifty years. There’s a little ‘Planet of the Apes’ here, a lot of ‘Star Wars’ there, with some ‘Battlestar Galactica’ in the corner, a gratuitous Patrick Stewart stunt-cast in the middle, and oodles of other knockoffs. It never feels like homage. This isn’t loving pastiche; it’s cynical repetition.
The characters aren’t particularly memorable or relatable. The animation looks like a dated PS2 cut-scene. The narrative is both tediously predictable and confusing in its convolution. The jokes are almost exclusively comprised of bad monkey puns, failed slapstick, and dire poo-poo/pee-pee gags. It feels like a movie pitch that was never fully developed, just shoved into production since animated movies always used to make money (although thanks to movies like ‘Spark’, that’s slowly changing).
The strangest thing about the production is just how many famous actors were willing to sign on to lend their voices. While it was probably an easy paycheck for a few hours in a recording booth, surely the likes of Sarandon, Stewart and Hilary Swank knew this script wasn’t up to snuff. Yet they all did it anyway. At least they can take solace in the fact that it’s unlikely many viewers old enough to recognize their voices will actually see it.
Perhaps there have been worse movies of this ilk, and ‘Spark: A Space Tail’ is mostly as innocuous as the grating generic dance pop that frequently underscores its scenes. However, the families that have turned animated features into instant and obscene moneymakers deserve better than the bare minimum of effort and imagination. Even though not all of these productions need to be insightful Pixar fables, they certainly should be better than this. There’s no spark here, just monkeying around. (Thanks to the writers of ‘Spark: A Space Tail’ for inspiring all the sweet puns!)