Children's films are hard to review. Most critics are adults, or at least older than the target audience aimed at kids. But kids films are harder to make. You have to think about two different crowds at the same time. You have to please children and parents, and each has different criteria that determine whether they are watching a good movie. Some studios put out solid efforts that entertain kids and parents alike, Pixar and Disney are the big two. However, there are others that have a spottier track record, studios like Illumination and Toonbox, the people behind The Nut Job movies and the subject of this review, Spark, coming to DVD and Blu-ray this September.
Spark is an orphan living in hiding on a fragment of his home planet after a violent coup by the evil Zhong overthrew the King and broke the planet into pieces. Now a teenager, 13 years after the incident, Spark seeks more than just hiding and running and tries to help his guardians, Chunk and Vix, in their attempt to stop Zhong from taking over the galaxy.
Let's start with the animation, while Pixar made realistic fur animation back in 2001 and was making something that looked almost photo-realistic with Cars 3, what is Spark doing? Something so bland and flat that I am having to look up stills from the movie to make a proper description. Now I know that animating is hard and painstaking work, but if you are releasing a film for theatres you should at least produce something of a better quality than TV CGI from 2008. The animation really isn't up to much even in the action sequences; you could actually find something that was better made online by someone sitting alone in their bedroom than what this studio has made.
Moving on to the story, if we can really say that there is a story. It is beat for beat the same as your average kids flick: a kid thinks that he is destined for more, turns out he is, hi-jinx and shenanigans ensue. This is usually fine if the characters and the world look interesting, which in Spark they do not. It would also be okay if the main players are engaging enough to enable audiences to connect with their plight. However, again they are incredibly forgettable or mildly insulting.
Which leads us to the voice cast. Now I am not disputing the fact that those involved with voicing the characters in this are talented in other projects, but here they are abysmal. Patrick Stewart sounds like he isn't even trying as a weekly comedic Admiral. Jessica Biel, Hilary Swank, Rob deLeeuw and Susan Sarandon just sound incredibly bored. The only person who was even remotely enjoyable was A.C. Peterson who voiced the villain Zhong and gave a campy, over the top effect to our big bad.
I should also mention the jokes, this is a children's film after all, and every good kid's film has some great humour, so how does Spark fair? Well, there are no jokes. That is being hyperbolic, of course, there are jokes, it's just that there are no funny jokes. Nothing, not one little thing made me so much as crack a smile. I just sat there watching bland characters go through the motions of acting out a bland story.
This film is marketed for fans of The Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me. However, I think that these films are lazy trash and that is what I think of this attempt as well. A bunch of clichés, sloppily modelled and lit characters, bored sounding voice actors and a story that you can form a drinking game around. But hark I hear that old defence of bad kids films uttered by uncaring studio execs, It's just a kids film it doesn't have to be good, to which I am always left speechless.
Aside from the film, while the disc itself is in fine working order, there really is nothing else to recommend Spark. There is a paltry trailer, but apart from that, there are no extras. So with a movie this average and a lack of extras I would probably recommend renting this or watching it if it ever shows up on Netflix or Amazon Prime if you are at all interested. Though I would not understand why, it is very clear that the filmmakers weren't interested in this project, so you shouldn't be either.