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

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Should We Worry About The New Academy Award Rule for Animation? (Probably Not)

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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 editorial!)

Warning: This entire article is obviously subjective, and my solutions are not the end-all-be-all solution to the problem.

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Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures put down a new rule for the Best Animated Feature voting, where instead of just the individuals of that branch of the Academy voting, everyone else from the other branches can throw their vote into the ring as well. Obviously, for many animation viewers and lovers, concerns were raised, since now anything is possible in terms of what animated films can get into those five precious spots that are meant for the best of the best from each year. So, should we worry? Why should we be worried? Is there anything truly worth being concerned about? Well, personally, I would say no. Why would I say that? If you will give me some of your time, I shall explain myself.

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So, let’s start with the concerns. People are afraid that this new ruling will allow films that are much weaker, in terms of critical receptions from both film reviewers and movie-goers, to slip on through due to less educated members of the Academy picking and voting through one of those films. I can also understand this fear, due to the film line-up this year. For those that are not paying attention, 2017 is not looking like a strong year for animation. DreamWorks has the recent financial hit, The Boss Baby, and the upcoming Captain Underpants film, Illumination has Despicable ME 3, Pixar has Cars 3 and Coco, Sony Pictures Animation has the underwhelming Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie, and The Star, and Blue Sky Studios has Ferdinand, to name a few. It’s not the greatest line-up from other years, like 2016 or 2015. The other concern is that it will be much harder for indie animated films from companies like GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Shout! Factory Kids to break through. “They will get thrown under the bus, because the bigger studios will throw around their budgets for marketing their films for award season, over companies that don’t have those massive budgets”. The possible results for the Oscars in 2018 could be set up like Coco, The Boss Baby, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Spark, and The Nut Job 2.

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Listen, I get it. This may open the floodgates for less knowledgeable people and even more marketing and big studio manipulation into an already flawed system. It could very well turn into a quantity-over-quality set of nominees. I perfectly understand the fear and cynicism. However, should we actually worry? Let’s look at the last couple of years of the Best Animated Features nominees. 2010 had Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon, and The Illusionist. 2013 had Frozen, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2. 2014 had Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2015 had Inside Out, Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. And recently, 2016 had Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle. While some of the films are odd nominees, what do a lot of those nominees have in common? For the most part, they are critically acclaimed films. I highly doubt, as flawed as the Academy system is, they are going to waste their time with movies that are not getting great reviews. It only takes a Google search to see what films have those nice little Rotten Tomato and IMDB scores. While the scoring systems on those sites are definitely another can of worms to deal with that other people on the net have already done, one can look at those scores, or do a little research as to which indie-animated films on the submission list are getting the most buzz around different critic guilds and word of mouth, and watch those. I doubt there is going to be an individual in the Academy that will say “oh yeah, Spark and The Boss Baby truly deserve it over the upcoming The Girl Without Hands and The Breadwinner.” Even with this new rule, I am not convinced that the organization is going to let the weaker nominees through.

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Now, am I saying we should just sit back, open up a bag of sweet maui onion potato chips, and not worry? Well, I would say yes for 80% of what I have said. If we want smaller indie-animated films to keep on getting nominated from companies like GKids, we are going to have to make an effort to support these films. Sure, you could go to five different viewings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but you know Marvel and Disney won’t need help to make that film a hit. Instead, if possible, go and find a theater playing some of the smaller releases, like My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea. Why not support something like The Breadwinner or The Girl Without Hands instead of wasting your time with a highly regarded bad movie for a bad movie night? If we want to make sure they don’t get swept under the carpet, then we need to start either supporting these smaller releases in theaters, and If you like them, spread the word on social media, or purchase the DVD or rent the film, and spread the word. You can’t complain about the smaller/more original releases when you don’t go out and support them. However, those distributors need to start expanding into more than just specific theaters that show off arthouse/indie films. I get that these things cost money, but sometimes, you have to bite that bullet, and make that investment.

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Listen, I’m not saying what I suggest is going to be correct. As usual, this is a subjective opinion saying that I wouldn’t be too concerned, but still support the smaller releases. I understand the concern, but I don’t think it is as cataclysmic as many people say it is. If the Academy was selecting films like Norm of the North or Strange Magic for Best Animated Feature in previous years, or Gods of Egypt as Best Film, I would be more worried. For the most part, good taste and popular public opinion are going to win over corporate greed and cynicism. Still, if you think you need to put up the good fight and support the smaller releases, then do so. Personally, the only big animated films that are coming out in 2017 that have a chance at making the shortlist are Coco, The LEGO Batman Movie, and possibly The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and Ferdinand, but that last film mentioned is a risk since it’s from Blue Sky Studios. I’m sure GKids has a few spots pinned down for some of their films coming out like The Breadwinner and The Girl without Hands. Who knows, maybe Sony Pictures Classics and Shout! Factory Kids will have something up their sleeve this year. Keep enjoying animation big and small, but only you can make smaller films successful.