The latest in a countless line of animated films featuring cute critters ("Ice Age", "Over the Hedge", "The Wild", "Madagascar") and others), "Open Season" gets points for the inspired pairing of Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence. The picture opens in a mountain town with tamed bear Boog (Lawrence) performing for a bunch of tourists. While in the car of his trainer, park ranger Beth (Debra Messing), Boog spots Elliot the Deer (Kutcher) tied to the hood of a car. When Boog lets Elliot go, he's earned a friend he doesn't want and an enemy he definitely doesn't want in Shaw (Gary Sinese), a hunter who thought he'd gotten a new trophy in Elliot.
When Elliot and Boog go on a sugar spree in a local convenience store, the local authorities feel that Boog has become too much trouble and force Beth to set him free (a better choice for a bear that has been captive for years and years would be the zoo because it wouldn't know what to do in the forest, but that's neither here-nor-there in a film like this.) Now out in the woods and stuck with Elliot, Boog has to now fend for himself in the wild for the first time. Meanwhile, as open season starts, Shaw has his sights set on catching the duo.
The majority of the picture has Elliot and Boog wandering the forest, encountering all sorts of oddball creatures, from a rogue army of Scottish squirrels to a couple of ducks and even Elliot's former herd, lead by the arrogant Ian (Patrick Warburton, perfect in the role.) Not surprisingly, eventually Boog has to become the bear he's meant to be and Elliot has to stand up to Ian. Both have to keep away from Shaw, who believes that animals are trying to take over the globe.
The picture does have its moments, thanks to Kutcher's over-the-top performance as Elliot. Hyperactive and occasionally quite funny, this is the most amusing Kutcher's been in recent memory. He's matched well with Lawrence, whose easygoing, deadpan delivery works. Some of the supporting performances, such as Messing, Sinese (whose hunter may be a bit too intense a villain for little kids) and Billy Connolly (as the leader of the angry pack of squirrels) are solid, as well.
The problem is that the script doesn't seem to come up with enough for these two to do. In between moderately amusing bits (Elliot and Boog gets swept down a river when Boog accidentally crushes a beaver dam) are some streches that seemed rather uneventful. There's a few too many bathroom jokes for the film's good, as well. Maybe the majority of critter humor has been mined already by the other animal films? I did feel on several occasions as if I'd seen something similar in other animated films in the last year.
"Open Season" does boast a good cast and, despite an average script, it does have its moments and the animation is above average. It stands as a decent adventure, but the script is a little too thin and the whole animal animation genre is starting to become worn out.
VIDEO: "Open Season" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the film's computer animation wasn't the most dazzling that has been seen in these kinds of films, it was quite good and looked spotless on this presentation. Sharpness and detail were never less than exceptional and no pixelation flaws were noticed. I did see a few instances of minor shimmering, but this wasn't much of a distraction. Colors looked sparkling, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other issues. Really nothing much to complain about in this excellent transfer.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation delivered what one would expect from a family comedy like this one - a presentation that occasionally used the surrounds for effects and light ambience, but largely kept the audio up front. Audio quality was fine, with a crisp, clear score and dialogue that seemed well-recorded and free of distortion or other problems.
EXTRAS: A commentary from directors Roger Allers and Jill Culton, co-director Anthony Stacchi, and producer Michelle Murdocca does offer occasional tidbits of information on working with the actors and the animation process. However, the bunch does spend a good deal of time praising just about every aspect of the film. There are also a trio of very short (a couple of minutes) "character commentaries."
A pair of deleted scenes are amusing, but seem rightly deleted. "Behind the Trees" is a 15 minute promotional piece that offers an overview of the movie and a few fluffy interviews from cast and crew. "Ring Tales" is a series of short promotional cartoons for the film. "Swept Away" is an informative deconstruction of the scene and "The Voices Behind the Stars" is a featurette that goes behind the scenes with the actors providing the voices.
Additionally, we also get art galleries, "Voice-A-Rama" interactive feature, "Wheel of Fortune: Forest Edition" game, "I Wanna Lose Control" music video, DVD-ROM link and preview area for next Summer's animated "Surf's Up". Last, but not least, we get "Boog and Elliot's Midnight Bun Run", a new animated short film starring the characters.
Final Thoughts: "Open Season" has some laughs and Lawrence and Kutcher make a good pairing. However, the film's best moments are a bit too few-and-far-between and the whole genre of animal animated adventures has begun to feel repetitive. "Open" is a mildly entertaining 90 minutes, but by the end of it, it just feels rather forgettable. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality and a pretty good assortment of supplements. Recommended for fans; those who didn't see the film in theatres should rent first.
The Film B-