Open Season
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Roger Allers, Jill Culton
scr Steve Bencich, Ron J Friedman
voices Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing, Gary Sinise, Billy Connolly, Jon Favreau, Jane Krakowski, Patrick Warburton, Georgia Engel, Fergal Reilly, Gordon Tootoosis, Paul Westerberg
release US 29.Sep.06,
UK 13.Oct.06
06/US Sony 1h26

Don't play with your food: Boog and Elliot fall out

lawrence kutcher messing

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Open Season High energy and lively performances keep this animated film entertaining, even if there's nothing terribly original about it.

Boog (voiced by Lawrence) is a grisly bear who has lived in the garage of Ranger Beth (Messing) since he was a cub. When he meets the ditsy deer Elliot (Kutcher), he gets into enough trouble that Beth feels it's time for him to be returned to the wild. But he's woefully unprepared for all that wildlife, including a feisty battling squirrel (Connolly), an angry beaver (Favreau) and especially a tenacious hunter (Sinise) who's not going to wait until hunting season before he starts shooting.

The technical and artistic achievement is remarkable. The animation has a bouncy, wacky tone that's full of witty sight gags and inventively designed characters. And the vocal cast is great fun, especially Kutcher and Sinise. The problem is that even this high level of skill can't mask the feeling of déjà vu. The plot is basically a variation on Madagascar/The Wild, while Kutcher's incessantly chatty Elliot is exactly the same character as Donkey in Shrek. And so on.

And there's also the oppressive Hollywood blanding down, in which there's lots of violent mayhem, but we know no one's in any real danger. Nature is depicted as peace-loving and a bit goofy (the idea that bears actually eat other woodland creatures is continually sidestepped), threatened by evil hunters who are easily outfoxed by the resourceful critters. Fortunately, the filmmakers manage to sneak in a few seriously deranged elements. Giving the beaver a chainsaw is a stroke of genius, the general bunny abuse is stupidly amusing and, even though their plotline never goes anywhere, the bigfoot-hunters are bizarrely comical.

Otherwise, the film is almost painfully simplistic, dumbing down any ideas it raises about the balance of nature for another silly gag. And many of the jokes seem deliberately unfunny, in that "it's so stupid that you have to laugh" sort of way. There's nothing hugely wrong with this film; it holds our attention and is thoroughly entertaining, but it's not original enough to stand out from the crowd.

cert PG themes, vulgarity, suspense 12.Aug.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall