The CG version of Judge Dennis Prince is a kid-friendly sass-talking armadillo who gets into all sorts of wacky adventures with his pal Squirky the kid-friendly CG sass-talking kinkajou. Look for their adventures at your local multiplex!
One Fur All. All Fur One.
In the battle for the CG animation crown, the competition is drawing its turf. With Dreamworks and Pixar headlining the featured bout, what room is there for a featherweight to try to steal away the title? Don't know, but media giant Sony, represented via its new Sony Pictures Animation arm, has officially pushed its own contender into the ring by way of its first feature-length CG hopeful, Open Season.
Will the newcomer send the fur flying?
Facts of the Case
Nine-hundred-pound grizzly Boog (Martin Lawrence, Big Momma's House) lives an enviable life. No, he doesn't reign supreme over the forest, but rather is the top attraction at the Timberline Wilderness Extravaganza, a "bear show" put on for visitors to commemorate the opening of hunting season. Boog performs dutifully for his ranger/trainer, Beth (Debra Messing, Garfield) who, in turn, mothers the giant bear with fish-shaped cookies and a cozy padded bed in her garage. The wildest thing about Boog, really, is his affinity for a stuffed teddy named Mr. Dinkleman. Domestic bliss changes for Boog, though, when he helps a scrawny mule deer named Elliot (Ashton Kucher, The Butterfly Effect) escape his prone predicament on the hood of an animal-hating hunter, Shaw (Gary Sinise, The Human Stain). Elliot makes his way to Boog's one-car castle and the two traipse off to raid the local PuniMart. When Boog is thought to have mauled Elliot backstage at the Timberline Wilderness Extravaganza, Beth realizes it's best that Boog be airlifted to the high forest. Misunderstood Boog doesn't take to the actual wilderness, though, and finds difficulty in eliciting reliable help from the woodland creatures in order to return to Timberline. Ultimately, his missteps bring the hunters down upon the forest critters, and Boog and Elliot must form a fast friendship and unite their forest friends if they intend to survive open season.
Open Season should be noted as a competent first effort from Sony's animation offshoot; technically adept and full of the elements that have made other features from other studios capture the hearts and imaginations of movie goers, young and old. The only trouble here is that it may be the hearts Sony is after may already have been sewn up in loyalty to the first-comers. That is, while Open Season sports family-friendly content plus a bit of light bathroom humor that usually elicits demure snickers, it treads on a well-worn path of CG animals-doing-human-things narrative. Boog is properly lovable, Elliot is appropriately quirky, and Shaw is absolutely hiss-worthy, but it all feels so familiar that it fails to engender any feeling of freshness and, therefore, is challenged to be remembered after the trim 86-minute run has completed. The actors do fine work with their vocalizations and the character designs are exaggerated to faithfully punctuate the pronouncements, but the lack of anything new keeps the film from being noticed amid the quickly overcrowding CG movie genre. Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with the film, but there's nothing particularly memorable about it either. Technically, it shows an aptitude on the part of the Sony Animation team that will make it worthwhile to keep an eye open for future releases.
This Blu-ray exclusive high-definition release from Sony Pictures Animation delivers a highly competent top quality presentation. Mastered in the AVC codec to deliver a genuine 1080p image, Open Season offers incredible clarity and detail that rivals other high-def CG discs. The colors are uniformly bright and well saturated. The detail level is what truly astonishes, though, with even the tiniest elements easy to see at any and every sequence. From the wooly fur of Boog to the dimpled nose of Elliot to the spot-on textures of the forest and its family, everything looks as if you could actually reach out and touch it. The audio, delivered in a PCM 5.1 Uncompressed mix, performs to a lesser quality than the image. This mix, while it has dimension and discrete separation, somehow lacks the core resonance that we expect from a film's soundtrack nowadays. The dialog is never difficult to discern and there's a definite element of surround utilization, but the overall result just doesn't impress as much as the video quality does.
Extras are plentiful here, beginning with a bevy of kid-friendly fare that includes an exclusive bonus cartoon, Boog and Elliot's Midnight Bun Run, a four-minute distraction that finds the two attempting to heist baked goods from a Streamliner camper. Youngsters will likely enjoy the segments of animal commentary found in Inside the Animals' Studio, where the animal characters provide voice-over analysis of select sequences from the film. Step over to the Wheel of Fortune: Forest Edition where kids can play an adaptation of the famous television word puzzle game show. Voice-A-Rama gives kiddies the chance to play musical cues sung by different animals, and Swept Away allows little reviewers the chance to study the deconstruction of the dam burst sequence. Big people might find interest in a standard audio commentary where Directors Jill Culton, Roger Allers, and Anthony Stacchi plus Producer Michelle Murdocca speak about the film's creation and its importance as the first feature from Sony Pictures Animation. Behind the Trees provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the film, while The Voices Behind the Stars offers a look at the voice casting and recording process. There's still more (maybe a bit too much for my taste), as you'll also find Deleted Scenes, an image Gallery, and a music video. And, before you can get away, you'll find significant promotional material for Sony Pictures Animation studio's next CG feature, Surf's Up. Without a doubt, the studio is planning to make a go of it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The good news is that while adults might not be "wowed" by this one, it's comforting to know that little ones can be set down in front of it without concern about the themes presented. If you're the sort that still enlists the services of the "electronic babysitter," this one comes with a near-perfect resume.
Open Season is a relatively entertaining jaunt over the tried-and-true turf of friendship, acceptance, and standing up for what you believe in. These aren't new topics explored by these wildly-animated critters, but the message is worth repeating in a time when less-than-honorable material is constantly vying for little ones' mindshare. We'll hope that this film works as a springboard for more salient releases from the new CG kid on the block.
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