Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘The Liberator’ animates WWII, offers unique visual perspective

Aptly released on Veterans Day this year, “The Liberator” is a visually unique tale of the courage and heroism of U.S. Lt. Col. Felix Sparks and the 157th Infantry Regiment during World War II. The series offers a thrilling immersion into the battlefields of the war, but suffers from its short length and occasional lapses in narrative.

“The Liberator,” a four-part animated miniseries about World War II, was released on Netflix on Veteran’s Day. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The four-part Netflix miniseries, based on the nonfiction novel of the same name, blends live-action acting with computer-generated image effects to create a one-of-a-kind animated series. The style, bearing a striking resemblance to the 2006 film “A Scanner Darkly,” suits the series surprisingly well, turning what would otherwise be brutal and gritty scenes into a vibrant and beautiful display.

The series focuses on Sparks and various soldiers of Oklahoma’s 157th Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Thunderbirds,” as they traverse through Italy, and later France and Germany. Though a number of characters are introduced — almost too many for the length of the series — Sparks receives most of the attention.

Sparks, played by Bradley James, is a likeable and charismatic leader who is dedicated to his soldiers to the point of defying orders to be with them. He makes a fitting protagonist, one whose personal struggles with the loss of his soldiers plays into a heavy theme throughout the series.

The opening of the show emphasizes the 157th’s composition of a mix of Native Americans, Mexican Americans and white cowboy soldiers, who, through their fighting, learn to look past their differences and accept each other as brothers in arms. Despite this, the theme of the overcoming of prejudice is never furthered beyond a few short scenes in the first episode.

The only other character to receive any substantial amount of attention in the series is fictional Native American Sgt. Samuel Coldfoot, played by Martin Sensmeier. While his character is interesting, the series hardly develops him over the course of the next three episodes.

With the miniseries being only four episodes, at roughly 45 minutes per episode, a large number of plot elements are seemingly abandoned or forgotten. In the first episode, a scene is dedicated to the interrogation of captured American soldier Pvt. Joe Spigliani, played by Luca Varsalona. However, despite this character having a name and backstory, he is never seen again past this.

In the third episode, a new series of characters are introduced out of nowhere, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of each person. While these characters do have some good, yet minor, moments, it seems odd to put such an emphasis on them when it’s clear no time will be allocated to fleshing them out.

Though characters are introduced only to be killed left and right, the focus seems more placed on the relationships and heroics of the soldiers as opposed to who they are as characters. However, the lack of character development makes it difficult for certain character deaths to feel impactful.

The battle scenes of the series are well done, with some of the battlefield set pieces being the most visually appealing of the series. Watching bullets soar and artillery shells explode in colorful heaps provides eye-pleasing visuals while still retaining the tension and thrill of the action.

At times, the series falls victim to the typical war movie cliches, such as a lone soldier sacrificing himself to clear passage for others. Despite this, the series retains a worthwhile charm through its art style and the occasional shining moment.

The series features a number of notable historical moments from World War II — including the Battle of Anzio, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany — in which characters have direct involvement.

Though the narrative of “The Liberator” is compromised by the short length of the series, its vibrant art style and vigorous action make the series as a whole worth your time. While it doesn’t elicit any harrowing or deep emotions, partly due to its faults, “The Liberator” makes for an excellent casual and not-too-lengthy watch.

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