It feels a bit trite saying that The Liberator, as a narrative, quite often lapses into some of the cliches and tropes you’d expect from a war story because the story is a starkly real one. Based on “The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey” by Alex Kershaw, the series chronicles Sparks and his men’s journey through sheer hell, for 500 days of combat, to the eventual liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Through it all, there are a handful of powerful moments mixed with an assortment of tired, middling ones – which in the end creates an earnestly average offering.
The animation elements are sort of hit or miss. Aside from this being a (presumedly) true account of The 157, the “Enhanced Hybrid Animation” aspect is the show’s hook. It’s what’s creating a buzz around what, honestly, could have been just another of Netflix’s many shows to get buried under the company’s tendency to creatively avalanche.
On one hand, the technology gives everything a fable-like quality, as if you’re turning the pages of a comic book or fairy tale tome. The reasons for this might be to help elevate the nobility of the story so that, yes, it can stand a bit taller than other war projects that aren’t necessarily based on real life people. But, on the other hand, with this animation comes a bit of emotional detachment at times – along with not being able to tell many of the characters apart, aside from the main three or four, during crucial parts of the story.
The style does grow on you over time, though with only four episodes that doesn’t present a huge window. By the third episode, the animation began feeling less distracting and more a part of this dream-like world for me. I even started to more easily distinguish characters from one another, which was a big deal since the third episode, “The Enemy,” brought in a lot of new faces.
The Liberator Netflix Gallery
Structurally, The Liberator works well. It uses its four chapters to explore very distinct combat situations and scenarios, so the episodic elements hold up nicely here, preventing the series from just blending together into one “long movie.” It moves us from the fog-covered forests of the Italy to the snow-blanketed Vosges Mountains to the Battle of Aschaffenburg. With Sparks as the show’s anchor, The Liberator presents a full journey in a satisfying way that covers a variety of subjects and themes, both big and small.
Merlin’s Bradley James plays Sparks with just enough pride and inner fire to prevent him from feeling like a blank slate. A real life “Captain America” of sorts, Sparks is humble and honorable to an almost unbelievable degree, but James is able to pull it off and present us with a leader who inspires his soldiers to serve with dignity and exceed expectations. The 157th’s southwestern roots are a major theme at the outset of the series as Sparks is tasked with turning around a squad of cowboys, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans who are used to being nothing but hostile to each other back at home. It’s a potent and promising way to bring us into the story, although it’s a shame the topic basically gets dropped after the first episode.