*** (out of 5)
September 29, 2006
Martin Lawrence as BOOG
Ashton Kutcher as ELLIOT
Gary Sinise as SHAW
Debra Messing as BETH
Billy Connolly as MCSQUIZZY
Studio: Sony Pictures
Directed by: Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Only a short decade ago, the full-length CGI animated feature was a novelty. Now, it has become the standard, almost completely laying waste to the ink-and-paint cell animation of the past. This year, we have seen more computer animated films come down the pike than ever before. If there were ever a time for the novelty to wear off, this is it.
If “Open Season” had come out just a couple years ago, it might have seemed fresher. It’s not really that stale, but it suffers from a severe case of “been there, done that. So many elements of the movie have been seen before – from the animals returning to the wild (see “Madagascar” and “The Wild”) to the forest creatures taking on the humans (see “Over the Hedge” and “The Ant Bully”).
Aside from the rehashed thematic elements, there is a cute story underneath. Boog is a grizzly bear that has been raised by a cub by a park ranger. She currently has him working for his dinner in a live show for families. However, when a hyperkinetic mule deer named Elliot escapes a hunter and befriends Boog, their lives become more complicated.
The park ranger is forced to return Boog and Elliot to the forest. To ensure they don’t get killed by the flock of hunters about to enter the woods for open game season, she puts them as deep into the forest as she can. Of course, Boog wakes up in terror and convinces Elliot to help him get back home.
One advantage of having the computer animated film losing its novelty is that it brings you to expect less and less from them. Let’s face it – not everything can be a Pixar movie. In this first major release from Sony Animation Studios, a lower expectation will help. It will make the mediocre jokes seem funny and the funny scenes seem hilarious.
The voice cast is pretty decent. Martin Lawrence plays Boog with an understated coolness, which is a refreshing change from his normally manic characters. Not surprisingly, Ashton Kutcher seems to have found his niche playing the jackass… er… mule deer.
A special nod does go to Gary Sinise who plays Shaw, the villainous hunter. Yes, there’s a heavy-handed liberal anti-hunting message, but if you can get past that (like you probably did for “Bambi”), you can have a good laugh at this character.
The plot disintegrates a bit, especially near the end, but it’s a kids’ movie, and they never look for the most cohesive of plots in films. The real reason to see the movie is for the comedy gags, which it has plenty of. The film definitely has its moments, including a funny scatological bit that challenges the question of what a bear does in the woods.
With CGI technology getting better and better, the animation studios are foregoing photorealism for stylized characters. The genre is evolving into its own form of actual animation rather than a means to make the audience “ooh” and “ahh.”
“Open Season” is also being released in the IMAX 3-D format, which is breathtaking to watch. If there’s an IMAX screen near you showing it this way, check it out. The IMAX immersion experience is definitely worth the extra bucks. In fact, it’s the only way to see it.