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Spark: A Space Tail
A planet of apes goes to war in writer-director Aaron Woodley's otherworldly computer-animated fable, which is second-hand in almost every respect including a flimsy plot that awkwardly melds The Lion King, Zootropolis with Ratchet And Clank. The lead character's catchphrase - "Let's kick some asteroid!" - is borrowed and first-person perspective action sequences, like the titular hero slaloming between rocky outcrops on a futuristic space bike, could be replays of countless video games. The simplicity of the animation coupled with subdued vocal performances, leave Woodley's picture marooned in space, tumbling out of control towards a black hole of mediocrity. Central messages of team work and self-belief reek of interstellar moth balls and the film's chief villain, a megalomaniacal simian with a Napoleon complex, is played unsuccessfully for laughs and consequently lacks menace. When this diminutive despot orders various leaders to hand over control of their planets or suffer the dire consequences, we're doubtful his retribution will be anything worse that a sulk. A brief prologue relates the destruction of the planet Bana at the hands of his "eternal malevolency" Zhong (voiced by Alan C Peterson), who unleashes a space kraken with the power to create black holes. One swirling vortex sucks up half of Bana including Zhong's brother, the King. A newborn called Spark (Jace Norman) is saved from oblivion by his self-sacrificing parents and the infant is spirited away to one broken shard of Bana by a robotic carer called Bananny (Susan Sarandon). She raises Spark and two other orphans, a fox called Vix (Jessica Biel) and a warthog called Chunk (Rob deLeeuw), on this outlying wilderness. When Spark turns 13, he pleads with Vix and Chunk to let him accompany them on covert sorties to Bana to steal from Zhong. "I'm not a kid any more. I should be going on missions with you guys," loudly protests the teenager. They refuse, so Spark steals their ship and makes a secret flight to what remains of his home planet, accompanied by cute cockroach Floyd. Subsequently, Spark encounters the Queen (Hilary Swank) and becomes a pawn in a life-or-death battle involving Zhong's hulking henchwoman Koko (Athena Karkanis) and the former Captain of the Bana Royal Guard (Patrick Stewart), who tenderly informs our teenage hero, "You are officially lost in space, my boy." Spark kindles familiarity, and ultimately boredom, as the impetuous lead character learns to channel youthful exuberance and realise his heroic destiny. Woodley's script moves at warp speed between set pieces, sacrificing development of two-dimensional characters at the altar of action set pieces. Gags miss more targets than they hit and a quartet of squeaking space cockroaches, which become Spark's allies in adversity, owe much to the Minions from Despicable Me.