‘Open Season’ fails on variety of levelsGenerations of children ― including me ― cried over the death of Bambi’s mother. But trips to the movies today make me want to kill Bambi’s descendents: the cloying, scatological, formulaic, all-around dumb animals-versus-humans movies released 64 years after Walt Disney pretty much took the concept as far as it could go.
Yet the last year alone has seen three computer-animated films with talking wild animals who embark on a whimsical battle against human civilization. One, “Over the Hedge,” was at least visually creative. The other, “The Wild,” was a complete atrocity. “Open Season,” the new entry from Sony Animation, falls somewhere in between in terms of quality thanks to a few nice background paintings. But because of its late release the story feels even more tired and unoriginal.
A park ranger (Debra Messing) keeps a rescued bear named Boog (Martin Lawrence) in her garage, having him ride a unicycle for the entertainment of visitors. When Boog unties a deer from the truck of the hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise), the deer, named Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), attempts to “rescue” Boog in return. The chaos Elliot causes leaves both dumped in the forest at the beginning of hunting season, with Shaw convinced of a massive animal conspiracy only he can stop.
The dynamic between the two main characters is straight out of “Shrek” ― the big, solitary, grumpy ogre/bear and the tiny, annoying donkey/deer who refuses to leave him (or us) alone.
Meanwhile, every single one of the supporting characters has an almost identical counterpart in “Over the Hedge.” The setting has switched from suburbia to the wilderness, but the supposedly endearing supporting cast of forest creatures is still here. The only difference: “Over the Hedge” at least had appealing character designs, engaging action sequences and good voice acting, while “Open Season” is entirely forgettable. The porcupine is kind of cute, but the anonymous “ethnic” skunks are offensive (and not just in an olfactory sense), while the spastic squirrels with Scottish accents just provide opportunities for more tired “nuts” jokes.
Supposedly Lawrence and Kutcher improvised one-third of their lines, making a wonderful case (along with most of Robin Williams’ animated performances) for why this should never happen again.
In fact, I can remember being amused only twice: when two traumatized ducks with French accents tell a delightfully random tale with the flavor of an old war film of comrades shot out of the sky by hunters, and when a pampered dog responds to his owner’s declaration that “momma’s going to take a dip” with, “Good. Momma’s getting kind of gamey.” The sheer volume of films based on the same awful idea leads one to wonder, could this onslaught of stupid animal movies have more important consequences than the waste of valuable film, time, brainpower and newsprint? After all, a moral stance against hunting is defensible, but these films propogate the myth that wild animals can all “just get along” to a generation of children, many of whom may not ever have been to the wilderness. That’s not to mention the film condones the use of animals for entertainment (by a park ranger no less), an important and often brutal real-life violation of animal rights.
This may not have been the worst animated film of 2006, but it came very close.
by Ben Applegate
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