With a budget of $40m and a return of less than $200k, it’s fair to say that animated kids’ movie Spark failed to ignite the interest of a cinema audience. While it’s easy to see where the film’s problems lie – its attempts at charm and idiosyncrasy are as derivative of better movies as is every last beat of its plot – the three-year-old we used as a test audience was nevertheless captivated throughout. And if most parents, certainly those who’ve sat through any of the Star Wars films, will have seen it all before, the story is sufficiently appealing for the under-three-foot-high contingent, and just about engaging enough to mean it’s no real chore for their accompanying grown-ups either.
Spark is separated from his family as an infant, after his father the King is deposed by the diminutive General Zhong (Peterson, having tremendous fun), intent on usurping the rulership of the beautiful, peaceful planet Bana and taking power for himself. Thirteen years later, we join the now adolescent monkey (voiced by TV’s Henry Danger Jace Norman) as he’s living with cuddly porcine handyman-cum-scientist Chunk (deLeeuw) and spiky dominating vixen Vix (Biel) on one of the asteroid-like shards created when Zhong used the black hole-forming abilities of a rare space kraken to break up the planet Bana. Zhong now wishes to extend his powers further, but with Spark on the cusp of adulthood he’s about to embark upon a mission that will reveal to him his true heritage and pit him against the deranged despot for control of Spark’s birth-right.
Spark isn’t nearly as over-complicated as any synopsis might suggest – presumably the impenetrable sounding plot being a reason for the lack of audiences – with both the relationships and the situation being carefully spelled out during some languorously paced sequences that might account for the fairly slight film’s 90-minute-plus running time. And if there’s nothing especially original or defining about the central trio, they are at least relatively likeable, and the introduction of Patrick Stewart’s Scottish Captain midway through is enough to revive any flagging interest.
There isn’t anything particularly either funny or inspired for a viewer to hold onto, though, the watchword for the movie being Moderate. The character animatics are Moderately Good, the landscapes and architecture are Moderately Interesting, the jokes are Moderately Amusing and the story is Moderately Involving. There’s a complete lack of imagination present, which means that all the good work produced by both actors and animators can get you only so far.
It is a relatively good-looking film that doesn’t outstay its welcome, however, one not to avoid rather than one to seek out. We definitely recommend you take your inner three-year-old along if you do, though.
Special Features: trailer
SPARK / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: AARON WOODLEY / SCREENPLAY: AARON WOODLEY / STARRING: JACE NORMAN, JESSICA BIEL, ROB DELEEUW, ALAN C. PETERSON, SUSAN SARANDON, PATRICK STEWART, HILARY SWANK / RELEASE DATE: 18TH SEPTEMBER