Does the world really need more computer-generated animals?
Directed by Roger Allers, Jill Culton & Anthony Stacchi
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing
With the recent, seemingly endless migration of CGI cartoon animals (Madagascar, Curious George, The Wild, Hoodwinked, Over the Hedge, Barnyard, The Ant Bully) flooding out of Hollywood, it would seem the viewing public has grown weary and jaded. No longer are the capering antics of a computer-generated cow enough to send us stampeding to the theater.
That’s a shame, really, because by inundating the viewing public with so much similar product, the movie studios have forced audiences to ignore quality animation like Monster House. (Of course, we also ignored total junk like Doogal.) Arriving too late to be considered part of this summer’s overwhelming selection of CG toons is the animal-centric opus Open Season.
The film comes to us from Sony Pictures Animation, the same upstart studio that gave us Monster House. And, like that unjustly ignored toon, this one is a better-than-expected visit to the world of 3-D computer animation. It’s no Pixar, of course, but it is an entertaining enough romp for kids and a confirmed non-guilty pleasure for adults.
Ignoring the recent trend toward A-list celebrity voicecasts (was it really necessary to put Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep in The Ant Bully?), Open Season sets its celebrity sights a little lower, offering up Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House) and Ashton Kutcher (Dude, Where’s My Car?) in top roles. Under any normal circumstances, those two names are enough to send me fleeing from the cinemaplex. But, I’m forced to admit, they’re fairly well cast in this instance.
Lawrence plays Boog, a 900-pound grizzly bear who has been domesticated by a park ranger (Debra Messing), housed in a two-car garage with a dog bed and forced to ride a unicycle in an animal stage show (which makes Messing’s character seem like pretty much the worst park ranger ever). One day, while tooling through town in the back of Ranger Beth’s Jeep, Boog has a run-in with a mule deer named Elliot (Kutcher). Seems Elliot has been run over (losing an antler in the process) with a pickup truck owned by Shaw, the town’s meanest hunter (voiced by Gary Sinise). Boog unties Elliot, earning the ire of gun-toting Shaw (who really doesn’t need any extra incentive to shoot at our furry friends).
Following a late-night sugar-induced raid on the local convenience store (initiated by the trouble-making Elliot), Boog finds himself in hot water with the town sheriff. Convinced that Boog is no longer a candidate for garage living, Beth reluctantly tranquilizes and helicopters Boog off into the deep woods.
The only problem is it’s three days before hunting season, and our boy Boog is a fish out of water. ... Well, actually, he’s a domesticated bear out of the lush, cable-TV-and-snack-filled garage in which he was raised. (Jeez, that Beth really knows nothing about animals.) Fortunately, Boog has got Elliot along for the ride. Unfortunately, Elliot isn’t the most expert of woodsmen, having been booted from his herd for excessive dorkiness.
With no clear path back to civilization and hunting season rapidly approaching, Boog and his not-quite pal Elliot are forced to organize the forest animals into a hunter-fighting force to be reckoned with.
The squabbling buddy movie formula works decently here. Lawrence and Kutcher are playing to type and, as such, are fairly convincing. Moronic Ashton Kutcher is so much easier to swallow than Serious Actor Ashton Kutcher. (If you crave SAAK, you’re welcome to check out this weekend’s other Kutcher offering, The Guardian.) Open Season’s plot doesn’t stray far afield from that of Madagascar and The Wild, but the script has plenty of energy and the sight gags (who doesn’t love bunny abuse?) provide ample laughs for young and old. Heck, the film actually contains the first certifiably funny poop joke I’ve heard in years.
While it’s doubtful that Open Season has enough originality to separate it from the rest of the CGI pack, it is a credible toon with some quality animation and a few good giggles. Just don’t expect it to get an NRA endorsement.