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Spark (2017)

Major spoiler alert: Though whether it is actually possible to 'spoil' a movie which made $192,705 on its opening weekend…that’s $308 per screen, by the way...is an open question, but you have been warned.

Episode IV: Return To The Planet of the Tropes

A long time ago, in a film-making community far, far away…

It is a time of civil war. A vertically-challenged rebel ape in Napoleon-type jacket, stack heels and an English accent so arch you could drive a bus under it has killed his brother and married his sister-in-law while partially-destroying the planet Banana (oh, sorry, ‘Bana’, but really…) by...oh, you really don't want to know how. But you'll find out. Oh yes. Pretty, it ain't.

Somehow-or-other – which may or may not have something to do with the writer-director, Aaron Woodley, being the nephew of well-known Canadian film-maker David Cronenberg, and son of the less well-known, but apparently rather talented Denise Cronenberg (costume designer on movies such as The Fly, Resident Evil: Afterlife and Dawn of the Dead) – a host of A-class Hollywood stars get roped into voicing characters for this entirely computer-animated bunch of bananas.

The plot: King Zhong (aka Scar – he of the typically-evil English accent) naturally fails to kill baby Simba/Monkey while casting his brother Mufasa/King Whatever and family into a wormhole crapped out by a mahoosive space-Kraken (told you you wouldn't want to know...).

"Why oh why must I be so SHORT and so ENGLISH???"
Baby Monkey instead ends up sharing a fragment (slice?) of Banana now used as a rubbish dump with Kung Fu master Fox (Jessica Biel; yes, really!), a robot nanny (Bananny – geddit? – voiced by Susan Sarandon; yes really!!) and Pig/Piggy LaForge, who is like, the porkiest, baddest-ass Chief Engineer anyone could wish for (voiced by no-one you’ve ever heard of doing a not-bad impression of John Goodman – the big man himself presumably having been unavailable at the time; he must be kicking himself).

Monkey/Simba (ok, ok, Spark), now 13, has an inner belief that he – alone, in the annals of 13 year olds – is special. Special enough to save the Universe. And he’s right, as it turns out. Who’dathunk?

And yet, like every 13 year old in SF/adventure movies, he is deemed too young for galactic derring-do, and instead – having first been humiliated with Kung Fu – he is forced instead to cruise the dump on his T-16, looking for womp-rats to bullseye, as Fox and Pig go off hunting space garbage. No fun!

Meanwhile, Simba’s mum, Hilary Swank (yes, really!!), sporting an ape-beehive Cher would kill for, has stolen a glowing egg/magic 8-ball which points the holder to the Space-Kraken which defecated (Wikipedia’s word, not mine) the black hole that caused Planet Banana to split [Groan – Ed]. The Kraken Wipes? I couldn’t tell. I digress.  

Simba, now bored of flying his land-speeder, decides to sneak around the dump, intercepts Hilary’s email to Fox – Hilary, email-security, honestly! – and then sneaks off while his wards are asleep, determined to prove himself 'special'. He gets the egg from Swank-Beehive and goes off to find the Kraken, which is hiding cutely in a space-cloud.

"With this reverse polaron thing I can clean up Kraken-krap!"
Elsewhere, on another cast-away slice of Banana, Patrick Stewart (yes, really!!!) is reprising his role as a famous space-captain, only this time not a French one with an English accent but an ape one searching desperately for a Scottish accent somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. Oy vay. His monkey crew have – happily – managed to build a little village on the airless, waterless asteroid, where they subsist on flame-grilled space-rat, fire seemingly working quite happily in this part of space, where all manner of physics seems to be on holiday.

By this time, Simba has managed to rescue his dad’s double-ended Sith Lord Kung Fu laser staff which he can happily attract magnetically to his glowing tattoo/birthmark – which is just as well because he loses it a lot – and begins to realise that he really is special. Way cool! Not only can he do Kung Fu, but his mum and dad used to be queen and king of a whole planet (of the apes)!!  

'Spark' then stumbles through more Kraken-krap, gives us a drag-queen bodybuilder with what looks like a Transformers tattoo on her booty, a bizarre sequence where the evil brain beast from Starship Troopers tries to sting Simba only for the beast’s entire flock to be recruited as a mercenary space-insect army by the kid's cute space-cockroach sidekick (did I not mention Floyd?) and ends up pitching us headlong into a mighty space-battle between the refloated Royal Battleship (Galaxy-Class, natch) and Zhong’s long silver Star Destroyer/space-pistol, which is trying to do for his stature what his green stack-heels clearly can’t accomplish.

Happily, Piggy LaForge manages to figure out how to create a reverse polaron-beam to suck Zhong down a dark Kraken-krap-hole, and the whole thing is tied up with a big Restoration ceremony on Planet Banana with uniforms, medals and confetti (presumably taking place on a Sundae?) [OK, enough of that – Ed]

If there was an idea left in the kitchen-sink Woodley threw at this, I can’t for the life of me think what it might be, but ‘Spark’s dismal US opening is, I think, a fair reflection of what the movie has to offer the AFA audience. On a rainy Saturday afternoon when Netflix has nothing else to offer, this might keep your little ones happy for a while, but it possesses none of the wit or in-jokes necessary to engage an adult audience, and the animation and production design feels cheap, dated and sadly un-nuanced.

Apparently, the 45-year-old Aaron Woodley hasn’t met many 13-year-olds – the age of ‘Spark’s hero – because this mawkish splat of mashed bananas misses its mark quite spectacularly in that regard, one gloriously-subtle reference to excessive teen masturbation notwithstanding. Most ten year olds I have met require a darker, wittier vibe from their animation-time, and older kids will be rightly contemptuous.

I can’t help suspecting this might be because, while much of the voice talent is front-rank Hollywood, its Asian financiers look to have driven the movie in the direction of more conservative (less demanding?) Asian family audiences. 

Mr Woodley clearly put his heart-and-soul into this monkey business, but next time could do with channelling his uncle a bit more, if he is trying to appeal to the more jaded, complex Western youth of today. And for God’s sake, Patrick, pick your scripts better in future!!

FORMATS UK Cinema Release May 26 2017
FROM Kaleidoscope  Entertainment
1hr 31m 

 (Really 1.5, borderline awful but not completely unwatchable)