October 09, 2006

MOVIES: Open Season (Roger Allers & Jill Culton, 2006)

This is the fourth animated film in the last year or so about animals taken out of the world they know and forced to survive in a new environment, filled with perils they could never have imagined before -- post 9/11 films for the tots. Like Madagascar and The Wild, Open Season takes domesticated animals and throws them into the wild; Over the Hedge reversed the formula by tossing a group of forest animals into suburbia.

Here, we start with Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence), a bear who lives a cushy life in the garage of Ranger Beth (Debra Messing); the two do a daily show at the local theme park. When Boog saves mule deer Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) from evil hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise, far too exaggerated even for a cartoon, in the movie's worst performance), the two go on a late-night rampage that leads Beth to believe that Boog has become too wild and dangerous to stay with her; she reluctantly takes him into the mountains and leaves him there.

Boog is, of course, utterly unequipped for life in the wild ("I can't even go in the woods!"), and forced to rely on manic Elliot for assistance. It's casting somewhat against type to have Lawrence play the insecure, panicky guy and Kutcher as the blustery showboat, but it works nicely; Kutcher is particularly good, cranking up the nervous energy in his voice and never letting us forget just how false his bravado really is.

The rest of the voice casting is somewhat uneven. Billy Connolly and Patrick Warburton (a voice-over veteran, and always a welcome presence) do nice work as an arrogant squirrel and the majestic stag who leads Elliot's herd, respectively; Georgia Engel lends her distinctive voice to a Sasquatch-hunting housewife. Jane Krakowski doesn't bring much life to Giselle, Elliot's love interest.

The animation is nicely done. Every new CGI movie seems to advance the art just a little further; in this case, we get the most convincing fur that I've yet to see.

On the whole, Open Season doesn't quite rise to the level of its mirror image from earlier this year, Over the Hedge. The final battle sequence, in which the animals unite to drive off the hunters, doesn't have the creativity or the energy of the comparable sequence in Hedge, and the jokes aren't as consistently funny. It's a mildly entertaining movie, though, and the kids will certainly enjoy it; as for grownups, they can probably wait for cable or DVD.

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