The Other Side of Animation 90: Spark a Space Tail Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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When I was looking at what films were coming out in 2017, I was one of the few people not trying to make it look like one of the worst years for animation as a whole. Sure, I can understand the dread and concern since so far, 2017 in animation has been pretty middling. Not that there haven’t been great animated films released this year, like The LEGO Batman Movie or My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, but for every good film, three films of lesser quality pop up and overshadow the good ones. However, this year has also seen animated films that somehow slip into theaters and then quietly leave after being ridiculed for being in theaters, when they had no reason to be there. Spark: A Space Tail is one of those films. Written and directed by Aaron Woodley, this film was made by the same studios that made 2014’s critically panned, but financially successful (somehow) The Nut Job. You would think with a film that for one reason or another was a moneymaker like The Nut Job, the same care and attention would go into Spark. Apparently, the distributor for both films, Open Road Films, thought otherwise. There was no real marketing for this film besides one trailer a month before it came out, and I saw nothing else. No TV spots or online ads for the film. To no surprise, the film was given a limited release, and was rightfully panned by the critics and the two people that went to go see it. Apparently, the film is also a box office bomb that’s actually worse than Delgo. Granted, they won’t tell us the budget for Spark, but I think it’s a good estimated $20-$30 mil and it only made a little over $196K. How do you do that? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows our lead, a monkey named Spark, voiced by Jace Norman. He’s stuck on a chunk of his old planet after his parents and planet were destroyed by an evil, yet small, dictator named Zhong, voiced by Alan C. Peterson. Spark dreams of taking down the evil empire with his friends Vix, voiced by Jessica Biel, and Chunk, voiced by Rob deLeeuw. After attempting to be useful, Spark actually makes things worse, by gives Zhong what he was looking for, a giant whale monster known as the Kraken. Spark must then make a second attempt to take down Zhong with his friends and an old military captain, voiced by Patrick Stewart.

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The many ways this film bothers me are too many to count. This is one of the most soulless and cynically-motivated films I have seen this year. There was no effort put into this film, and I honestly can’t think of one area where the film does something right. I mean, where do I start? How about the animation? It’s quite obvious this was never going to be a theatrical-quality-animated film. It’s woefully lackluster in its character designs, movements, and textures. It looks like a nicely polished PlayStation 2 game. Everything is too flat and the character designs are not that inspiring, and simply forgettable. It’s also yet another Asian-made CGI film that has elements of Journey to the West inspirations. Thankfully, it’s not just another Journey to the West-style story, but it’s getting really tiring that apparently, while it’s a popular story in that part of the world, they can’t think of any other stories to take inspiration/references from. The movements are definitely not as rubbery as Norm of the North, but they still don’t move as fluidly as they should. I know some would argue not every film needs to be a Pixar and Disney film, but they need to look just as polished if they want to be in theaters. Movements are clunky and limited, facial movements are very basic, and even the “action” sequences don’t have any weight to them. The characters feel like they are flying around a big green or blue screen, which makes the background look lifeless. It’s probably a good guess that they had enough of a budget for what would traditionally be enough for one episode of a regular CGI animated show.

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The story and characters are very flat, and not-at-all interesting. Spark is an annoying teenage character who is literally the reason behind Zhong getting the upper hand in the film, and is just a grating character to listen to. Yes he might be a teenager, but these types of characters are not endearing in the slightest to listen to or invest time with. Vix is a pill of a character, and Chunk probably is the most likable character, but is very basic. The villain shouldn’t be a threat. He can’t fight back against anyone bigger than himself, and while I get he was made more as a comedic villain, the film relies on everyone being too stupid to stand up to him. The overall story is very basic adventure 101 with a chosen one, and every cliché from this type of film that you have seen a hundred times. I don’t care if you are unoriginal, but you have to be executed well or do something new or refreshing. This film doesn’t do that well with a story that you can guess from the very beginning scene. I also wonder how the heck they got these actors. I know some of them aren’t current A-list, but how do you get Jessica Biel, Hillary Swank, Susan Sarandon, and Patrick Stewart? I get why you got that child actor Jace Norman, but those other four? You would think they would get to throw some weight around, especially Patrick Stewart and Susan Sarandon, since they were both in recent hits like The Feud and Logan. I understand that they did this way before those two projects came out, but come on.

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So, is there anything positive to say about this film? Not really. The only real reason this film has to exist now is to be a prime example of how to not make, distribute, in this case, animate, and market your film. I don’t know one thing this film did correctly to entice or interest anyone into seeing this film. It’s quite honestly one of the prime examples of a film that has no real reason to exist or to have been pushed into theaters. If Open Road Films cared at all about this film, they would have marketed more, put more time and effort into it, and actually gave a hoot about it. I can’t repeat this enough that this film has no reason to exist. I wish I could find something about this film as redeemable, but when more animated films are putting effort into their experiences, whether they turn out to be good or bad, you have to step it up in order for them to warrant theater time. For now, Spark has the honored spot as the worst animated film of the year. I don’t usually like talking about these films because I know the people that made them probably didn’t have the best work schedule to get this done, but if you are going to be selling me a product that I’m paying money for to see in a place that has multiple Hollywood-level films in other rooms, then you are opening yourself up for massive amounts of criticism. Sometimes, going straight-to-DVD is the better route for these animated films. How about next time, we look at the new anime film on Netflix with Blame! Thanks for reading; I hope to see you all next time as we count down to review 100 animation reviews.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

The Other Side of Animation 60: Bling Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

With this year being very popular for animated films big and small, it’s definitely showing that the movie industry and media distributors are grabbing animated properties left and right to be able to call their own. Sony Pictures Classics bought the rights to distribute The Red Turtle, GKIDS got their hands on Miss Hokusai, a popular 2015 entry from the Annecy Film Festival, and Netflix bought The Little Prince when, for some unknown and quite frankly stupid reason, Paramount dropped it. Sadly, that means that some companies are going to pull a Central Park Media or LionsGate, and buy up any animated films they can, not caring if it’s good or bad. This is why I’m looking at one of Google Play’s exclusive films, Bling. This is a Korean CGI-animated film produced by Digiart Productions, the studio behind the infamous rip-off film The Reef. The writing on the wall, in terms of quality, is no better seeing the writers, who worked on films like Alpha & Omega, Outback, and The Reef. Yeah, this is going to be one of those movies. Let’s dive in and see what the damage is.

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The story revolves around a young man named Sam, voiced by John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch. He is a robot maker, who lives with his three robots, Wilmer, a pig robot voiced by Jon Heder, Kit, a monkey robot voiced by Jason Mewes, and Okra, a frog robot voiced by Tom Green. Throughout his entire life, all Sam wanted was to marry the love of his life, Sue, voiced by Jennette McCurdy. However, when an evil mastermind named Oscar, voiced by Jason Kravits, and his robot, Victor, voiced by James Woods, wants to take over the city, it’s up to Sam and his robotic friends to take them down.

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Let’s get the bad out of the way, first. In the first few minutes of the story, you get a lot of the film’s biggest problems. First off, the moral message. In the first five or so minutes, the movie basically says, “to be a good piece of wedding material, you need materialism!”. Forget about actually knowing about one another, bonding over dates and social sequences, and after a while seeing if you are into each other enough to want to spend the rest of your lives together. Because you know, you can simply marry anyone if you just pimp out a hugely expensive ring showing your self-worth. And this theme is everywhere in this movie, making a lot of the characters rather unlikable, and having an incredibly cynical drive to them. I don’t know if this was the intent, and the writers had a stupid moment that made them skip over this huge issue of the film, because I would like to know, but holy macaroni, this brings the film down immensely. Like I said, the characters don’t really have personalities, and some of their dialogue sounds incredibly forced and contrived, especially with the monkey robot that is obviously inspired by the Journey to the West story. The other characters are simply forgettable or oddly tame, compared to their actors. Like, how do you have Tom Green, infamous for Freddy Got Fingered, and somehow make him act like he got hit with a sleeping spell or some kind of tranquilizer? In the end, that may be a blessing if you have ever seen Freddy Got Fingered, but I digress. He brings no energy to his snarky cynical robotic counterpart. This film also has the failure of comedy. I just recently rewatched The LEGO Movie, and it made me realize how incredibly funny that film is, and how animated films can have good comedy, but nope! There is no excuse for this film going for low-brow humor, like its excessive amount of fart jokes (all of them coming from the pig robot), when other animated films are raising the bar with their wit and clever writing, like in Zootopia. Why would you just have okay writing and not hit it on the mark every single time you deliver a line or joke? Seriously, there needs to be higher standards in animation and filmmaking, in general. Apparently, someone loved the fast-forward button, because the first part of the movie moves at a really fast pace. It doesn’t let us get a breather or a break to be embraced into this film’s world, or learn about the characters (you never learn why Sam decided to make robots at all), which is really generic and not interesting or memorable, like the city in Big Hero 6 or again, Zootopia.

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In terms of animation, it looks more appealing-if-generic to look at than Norm of the North and Underdogs, but it’s also not technically impressive looking. It’s slightly better than what we can do with TV show CGI animation these days. Some of the action scenes are decent, but not super-engaging. After watching Kung Fu Panda 3 and The LEGO Movie, you can do action in animation, and for a film that tries to have so many fights, the sequences are not up-to-par. This is also when we have seen Kubo and the Two Strings, and how that film is being ambitious with a more action adventure-oriented experience. I know I sound harsh in saying “well, they aren’t trying hard enough when others are showing how much effort they are putting into their movies”, but I’m being honestly harsh. There needs to a level of quality these days due to how many people aren’t going to the theaters anymore, but that’s mostly because Hollywood thinks we will watch anything, and just ignore the super high quality effort put into some movies.

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I don’t want to come off like an utter jerk, because I do have a few, if minor, positive comments to say about Bling. Even though its animation is not good, I will say it’s more pleasing to look at than Norm of the North and Underdogs. It’s rather impressive that Korea and China are upping their animation budget, even if it still won’t reach Pixar or Disney levels, yet. It might have this plastic/soft clay look to everything, but it sort of works for some of the robot designs. I found the only actor to actually put any effort into his or her acting is James Woods as Victor. Honestly, he has the most interesting personality and development as a character.

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While it might not be as bad as Norm of the North or Underdogs, it’s still the third worst animated film of this year. I’m rather surprised that I found something worse than Ratchet & Clank, The Wild Life, and Ice Age: Collision Course. I think it saves itself only because of the effort put into the animation, and it decided to only stay in theaters for like, three days, and then go through Google Play for its distribution. Avoid this movie, and if you want to watch Asian animation done right, you are better off buying any of the Studio Ghibli or Mamoru Hosoda films or any of the Japanese-animated films from GKIDS. Well, Halloween will be upon us, so let’s check out some Halloween-centric films like Hotel Transylvania 2. Hope you are all ready for some spooks!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist