dir-scr Aaron Woodley
prd Tracy Grant, Jung Woo-Kyung, Lee Youngki, Harry Linden, Zheng Jun
with Jace Norman, Jessica Biel, Rob deLeeuw, Hilary Swank, Alan C Peterson, Patrick Stewart, Susan Sarandon, Athena Karkanis, Jordan Pettle, Evan Taggart, Shannon Perreault, Aaron Woodley
release US 14.Apr.17, UK 29.May.17
16/Canada 1h31
On a mission: Vix, Spark and Chunk

biel swank stewart
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Spark There are three kinds of animated movies: the slickly produced studio ones, the artfully crafted independent ones, and the substandard wannabes. Sadly, while there's plenty to enjoy in this space romp, the quality of both the writing and the animation leaves it in that third category. And while it's energetic enough to be watchable, there are so many obvious echoes of other movies that it's distracting.

Spark (Norman) is a teen monkey raised on a shard of his former planet, which was splintered by Zhong (Peterson), a megalomaniacal little man determined to take over the universe. With his parents missing, Spark is raised by Bananny (Sarandon), a grandma-shaped robot, and scavenger friends Vix and Chunk (Biel and DeLeeuw), who are rebelling against Zhong. Impatient to join the cause, Spark borrows a spaceship and enters the fray, contacting the Queen (Swank) and finding a missing Captain (Stewart). But he's going to need his friends if he wants to save his world.

The plot is pieced together from elements of pretty much every orphan movie ever made, from The Lion King to Star Wars, and there are rather painfully obvious nods to both of those and many others all the way through this story. Even so, the quick pace and colourful characters hold the attention, and a constant infusion of humour keeps us from taking any of it very seriously. There are even a few emotional moments along the way, plus some mercifully deranged hilarity.

So it's a shame everything looks so generic. The animation is bright and the action is whizzy, including some whooshing sequences shot in a tight perspective to make it seem like it's in 3D. But the characters lack visual detail, which leaves them looking like plastic action figures. They make up for this to some extent with big personalities, but the voice work doesn't have enough detail to be terribly memorable. And none of the characters surprises us in any way.

Basically, the problem is that the script isn't original enough to properly catch the imagination. The straightforward characters and predictable plot roll along amiably enough, keeping us smiling even at the most inane jokes. And the usual themes gurgle up in the expected places. It's a lot more entertaining, and the animation is much better, than many smaller foreign productions. But a lot more skill and innovation is needed to compete with the big boys.

cert pg themes, violence 4.May.17

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