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Here we go again.
Bloog (Martin Lawrence) is something of an oddity. See, he's a domesticated grizzly bear, and he spends his days performing comedic skits with his handler, a park ranger named Beth (Debra Messing), and his nights sleeping in her garage. Bloog's comfy life if thrown for a loop when he meets Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a hyperactive mule deer who has a knack for causing trouble; Bloog frees Elliot from the hood of a hunter's truck and soon finds himself unable to get rid of the deer. Following a series of events beyond his control, Bloog is branded a menace to the citizens of Beth's hometown, and the heartbroken ranger is forced to take the bear back to the forest. Elliot says he'll lead Bloog back to Beth's home, but he doesn't actually know the way. Even worse, open season begins in three days, and a mean old hunter named Shaw (Gary Sinise) has it out for both Bloog and Elliot. Our heroes don't want to become the latest additions to Shaw's wall of mounted mammals, so they band together with the other denizens of the forest and make a stand against Shaw and his fellow pelt-happy sportsmen.
Open Season suffers from one serious flaw: it's too familiar for its own good. There's really nothing here you haven't seen before; in fact, there's really nothing here you haven't seen five or six times in the past two years (and that includes the casting of Patrick Warburton as a pseudo-heavy). The story and characters, which are loosely based on Steve Moore's "From the Bleachers" comic strip, are nothing more than variations on a theme; they're not embellished or tweaked enough to make them anything special. The jokes and sight gags don't break any new ground (you see a squirrel in this type of movie and you're guaranteed to get a double entendre about his nuts), and the animation, while nicely rendered, isn't in the same league as what Pixar and Dreamworks are cranking out. The movie is pleasant enough, but given the current glut of CG funny animal features, that simply isn't going to cut it.
Okay, so is there anything noteworthy about Open Season? Well, despite the fact that the animation isn't exactly a wow, the visuals are somewhat striking, primarily because many of the backgrounds have been designed to look like paintings; I can't recall seeing this technique before in a CG animated movie, and it's rather effective. The characters really stand out from the backgrounds, giving many shots a three-dimensional quality that almost floored me. A couple of the set-pieces really work. The flood that occurs when Bloog and Elliot accidentally destroy a beaver damn is cleverly constructed and executed. The same goes for the climax, during which the woodland creatures go all A-Team and use every tool at their disposal to scare away the hunters. (Given their quality, I wouldn't be surprised to learn these sequences received more attention and time than the entire remainder of the movie.) And then there's Billy Connolly, who voices McSquizzy, the aforementioned squirrel. McSquizzy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Connolly, fancies himself lord of the forest, calling upon his minions to attack any creature unwise enough to venture too close to one of his trees. Given that he's a squirrel, I suppose it would logical to compare him to Steve Carell's manic turn as Hammy in Over the Hedge, but I'd say Connolly's efforts are more akin to those of Eddie Izzard in The Wild. While Carell stood out in a very fine ensemble, both Izzard and Connolly one-up their fellow cast members, stealing their respective movies and revealing just how much the rest of the material pales in comparison to their work.
Given that Open Season seems to be aimed primarily at kids, I though it would be a good idea to get the opinion of someone from the target demographic, so I let my eight-year-old nephew watch it with me. He enjoyed it, but wasn't bowled over by it, and hasn't asked to see it again. I think that's rather telling.
This is reportedly the first time Sony has eschewed MPEG 2 in favor of one of the newer codecs (MPEG 4 in this case), and the resulting transfer is flawless. The color palette is dominated by warm, bright hues and deep, rich earth tones, all of which are rendered perfectly. The few darker scenes feature cool blues, which also look incredible. Black levels are superb. Details, even those in the darker scenes, are stunning. Simply put, Sony absolutely nailed this one.
The audio, on the other hand, is a bit problematic. The mix, presented here in both uncompressed PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, is rather front-heavy. The surrounds only really kick in during the flood sequence and the climactic battle. Dialogue and effects sound very good, but things get a bit iffy when the music comes into play, as the songs and score by Paul Westerberg (who's a long way from "Dope Smokin' Moron" here) are often buried and flattened by the mix. By no means is this a bad mix, but it certainly could have been more engaging and expansive than it is. As is generally the case, the PCM track is smoother and more natural sounding than its Dolby counterpart. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The extras here fall in line with what you've come to expect from a CGI animated flick.
Up first is Boog & Elliot's Midnight Bun Run (4 minutes), an animated short in which the buddies attempt to pilfer pastries from an RV. It's touted as being created especially for the DVD, but it played to me more like an outtake from the movie.
Behind the Trees: Making Open Season (15 minutes) is a standard making-of featurette. It focuses primarily on the technical hurdles faced by the animators, although there is some information regarding the story and characters.
The Voices Behind the Stars (7 minutes) offers the actors a chance to discuss their characters and the recording process, while the filmmakers chime in with their thoughts on (and praise for) the cast.
An audio commentary comes courtesy of co-directors Anthony Stachhi, Roger Allers and Jill Culton, who are joined by producer Michelle Murdocca. This is a catch-all chat, covering the project's origins and evolution, the actors, etc. The participants are unabashedly in love with their creation, so don't expect anything along the lines of objective observations.
You also get two deleted scenes, which are presented in storyboard form. The first is nothing special, but the sequence with the gargantuan deer tick is pretty funny.
Inside the Animals Studio (4 minutes total) contains brief faux commentaries from three of the supporting critters.
The three Ring Tales animated shorts (1 minute total) are promotional spots that look to have been adapted directly from the "From the Bleachers" strip. These originally appeared on the movie's website.
Three art galleries showcase production stills from the following categories: Environments, Characters, and Beat Boards (paintings of key moments in the movie).
Under Activities you'll find the following: Wheel of Fortune Forest Edition, Voice-a-Rama, and a scene deconstruction of the flood sequence.
The music video for Deathray's "I Want to Lose Control" is also included.
Lastly, there's an extended preview for Surf's Up, Sony's upcoming CGI movie about (wait for it) surfing penguins.
Open Season isn't a bad way to kill ninety minutes, especially for the kiddies, but I can't imagine even the small fry will want to watch it on a regular basis. Give this one a rent, sit down with your little ones, have a chuckle or two, marvel at the transfer, and be prepared to forget about it once it's over.