Animated filmsor, more specifically, computer-animated filmsused to be a sporadic breed a few years back. Only a handful were released each year, making the ones that did come out worth looking forward to. Fast-forward to 2006, and the oversaturation of computer animation has begun to lose its luster. Quantity most definitely does not equal quality, and even the best ones so far this year"Cars
" and "Monster House
"have been flawed entertainments. Following in the underwhelming footsteps of recent forgettable turkeys "The Ant Bully
" and "Everyone's Hero
," "Open Season" is thankfully a step in the right direction. The characters are a beguiling bunch, the story is handled far more smartly than in the similar "Over the Hedge," and the animation is idyllic. At the same time, this project is still only a minor effort in the annals of the animated genre. Kids and adults both have the capacity to enjoy what directors Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi offer, but it won't exactly be permeating in the viewer's memory much longer than the length of the running time.
As the saying goes, Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence) is as happy as a pig in mudexcept, in this case, he's a domesticated grizzly bear who wouldn't have it any other way. Living in the garage of beloved owner Beth (Debra Messing), being fed three meals (and additional snacks in between) per day, and getting lullabied to sleep at night, there is no disputing that Boog has a happy life in the woodsy country town of Timberline. After saving a mule deer named Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) who has been captured by die-hard redneck hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise), Boog plans to return to life as usual. Instead, he is sought after by an infinitely thankful Elliot, who tempts Boog to venture outside of the comforts of his home. When their misadventures suggest that Boog has grown too wild to be living with a human, Beth reluctantly drops him and Elliot off in the middle of nature's forests. Desperate to prove that he still belongs with Beth, Boog (with Elliot in tow) sets off to find home. Unfortunately, their trek back to Timberline is about to coincide with the start of hunting season.
"Open Season" gets off to a promising start with the opening credits scored perfectly to "Wild Wild Life," by The Talking Heads, and the establishment of a warmhearted friendship between grizzly Boog and human animal lover Beth. When Boog is abandoned in the mountains, the separation between he and Beth is felt enough that the viewer roots for Boog to reunite with his owner. Replacing the loving animal-person bond is a new, equally unlikely relationship between Boog and motormouth deer Elliot, whose inspiration is obviously Eddie Murphy's Donkey in the "Shrek
" movies. Elliot, like Donkey, is bubbling over with so much energy that he's tiring, and yet he never becomes tiresome. Elliot wears his heart on his sleeve and is who he is, and that's what makes him lovable. As the voice of Boog, Martin Lawrence (2006's "Big Momma's House 2
") receives his juiciest role and gives his most gentle and sweet performance in years. As Elliot, Ashton Kutcher (2005's "A Lot Like Love
") is a force of comic energy and charm who plays off of Lawrence well. With a good script, these two would be a gangbusters on-screen pairing.
The ragtag animals Boog and Elliot run intofloppy, aloof bunny rabbits; a lonesome porcupine; hostile tree squirrels led by the territorial McSquizzy (Billy Connolly); wood-chomping beavers; Latina skunksare diverse if underused within the story, and are mostly around for comic relief. As Shaw, the cruel villain of the piece who will stop at nothing to collect Elliot as a trophy for his wall, Gary Sinise (2004's "The Forgotten
") is despicable enough to rank as one of the more memorable recent animated villains. When Shaw spots his intended game for the first time in the wilderness, a thrilling chase ensues in a white water rapids that includes a sensational plummet off a waterfall. The film's climactic confrontation between our heroes and the hunter doesn't live up to their earlier interactions because of the "Home Alone"-like slapstick antics screenwriters Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman (2005's "Chicken Little
") have lazily chosen to solve Boog's and Elliots problems. Better is a final scene between Beth and Boog that surprisingly diverts expectations while aiming for the truth of the situation.
Unlike the bland "Everyone's Hero
," "Open Season" is a pleasant time for the whole family, rarely pandering to little kids save for an inevitable fart joke and cooking up some fresh, slightly edgy humor for older audiences. Still, it is too slight for 'animated classic' status, and its only message outside of the value of friendship and working together is an anti-hunting stance that I applaud but some viewers might find heavy-handed. Mostly, though, the film remains breezy and good-natured. "Open Season" will never be confused for a deep movie, but it is a winsome piece of fluff that is easy on the eyes, the ears, and the heart.