Open SeasonReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/28/06 23:38:31
There’s nothing in “Open Season” that you haven’t seen before; bland and uninspired, it’s kiddie movie by rote, all too familiar. The story involves a domesticated animal, used to city life, returning to his natural habitat (“Madagascar,” “The Wild”); another animal, also used to the human world, has introduced him to the wonders of junk food (“Over the Hedge”); these animals plus many more team up to use their wits to defeat a generic villainous bad guy human in an all-out war (“Over the Hedge” again; “The Ant Bully”); along the way, the two main animals learn to be best friends as they discover what they really want out of life (every cartoon ever made).Now, obviously much of this familiarity is unintended, considering the lengthy production time needed to make an animated film. I’m not saying the makers of “Open Season” ripped any one movie off here. What I am saying, though, is that they’re so reliant on cheap cliché and the blandest, easiest of formula storytelling that they wind up dumping on us a story that’s pretty much exactly like every other cartoon that also took the easy way out. There’s no heart to “Open Season,” no sense of newness or wit. It comes off as the product of studio maneuvering instead of genuine storytelling.
The film follows the adventures of Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence), a grizzly bear who’s been raised by Beth (Debra Messing), a woman of some vague nature-related profession - she’s a park ranger or zookeeper or some such - and every day she puts on a show for the kids in which Boog does a bunch of cute tricks. Boog crosses paths with Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a mangy deer who convinces the bear to help him raid the local convenience store in search of candy bars and other assorted goodies. From this, Beth decides it’s time to finally let Boog return to the woods, although once there, Boog and Elliot decide to work together to find their way back to the city. Meanwhile, there’s a crazy hunter/conspiracy theory nut (Gary Sinise) who’s determined to get Boog and Elliot, especially now that it’s open season for hunting.
The screenplay is from Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman, who previously collaborated in part on the script for, among other cartoons, “Brother Bear.” I’m not sure how much they put into what made it to screen in that film, but for “Open Season,” they seem to borrow the generic outline - two mismatched characters on a journey, they learn to get along and find their place - without bothering with any of the magic, humor, or originality that helped set that film apart from its formulaic base. They know the notes but not the music, as the old saying goes.
So instead of things like humor and warmth, we get a parade of poop jokes and other assorted toilet humor. Indeed, “Open Season” marks the first time I believe I’ve ever seen a cartoon deer relieve himself right there for all to see, a sight gag that goes beyond desperation and into some new, as-yet-unnamed territory of bad comedy. There are, mercifully, no limp pop culture references or Smash Mouth songs that seemed to have infested animation lately, but we do get a series of punchlines that are too adult-oriented for kids but too unfunny for adults. (Or should my daughter know what “he’ll shiv you” is supposed to mean?)
We also get cheap gags about how every species of the forest is a wacky variation on human diversity: the skunks are sassy Latinas, the ducks are frightened French, the squirrels are hot-tempered Scots. And the beavers, because they work in construction, why, they get Bronx accents. Because that’s how lazy this whole thing is. I’m surprised they didn’t haul in Wanda Sykes for a voice part.
But they did reel in Patrick Warburton, who has now officially become a cartoon cliché. This is to no fault of his own; after all, he’s a brilliant performer and a gifted comic with the perfect sound for voice-over duty, and it’s nice to see him get steady work. Yet outside of a few bright exceptions, most of the projects that bring him in use him as a character shortcut - he’s the clueless, condescending oaf (in “Open Season,” the variation is “preening macho deer”), nothing more. It’s as if producers, not willing to put time into building actual characters, figure they can just call up Warburton to fill in the gaps for them.
Warburton’s presence is needed here, however, as the movie has little else going for it. The animation is impressive, but that’s no surprise these days, and the soundtrack, filled mostly with tunes from Paul Westerberg, is breezy, but on a story level, “Open Season” is a flop. It’s not so much a story as it is a series of barely connected story ideas - animals raid convenience store, followed by domesticated animals getting used to the woods, followed by split up/get back together conflict, followed by big war with hunters, followed by happy ending. Nothing here is earned, not the happy ending (which comes across as demanding to be touching just because it’s the end), not the animal-hunter battle (like “Over the Hedge” and “Ant Bully,” the villain here is so generic and underwritten that ultimately the war doesn’t feel like a natural extension of the plot), not the Boog-Elliot connection (they’re put together just so we can have opposites put together, they argue just so we can have somebody argue, they become friends just because that’s what happens in other movies).
It’s easy to see where the film goes wrong, but more problematic, it’s impossible to see how it could have been fixed. Nothing here screams “essential,” nothing stands out as a great starting point to a better tale. The story of a bear and a deer who become friends sounds like it was made up on the car ride to the producer’s office, and everything that follows that premise plays as flat and undercooked. There’s just no core to the story, which means there’s no reason to care for the characters, which means there’s no reason to get interested in the action or the humor, which means it’s all one big snooze.“Open Season” certainly isn’t the worst animated film to come in this latest batch of CGI projects, but it’s certainly among the blandest and most forgettable.
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