OPEN SEASON, directed by Jill Culton and Roger Allers, written by Steve Bencich, Ron Friedman and Nat Mauldin, 100 minutes, rated PG.
It’s convention and cliches that drive the new computer-animated movie “Open Season,” an overly familiar yet nevertheless likable film that could have been exceptional had it attempted something fresh within the genre. Since risks of that nature tend to make a studio nervous, “Season” chooses the well-worn path of formula, though generally with good results.
The film, which Jill Culton and Roger Allers based on Steve Bencich, Ron Friedman and Nat Mauldin’s script, is nicely animated – and not to the point where it appears to be trying for realism. The movie’s animation is content to look like animation, which these days is a bonus, with many of the human and animal characters all loopy exaggerations of their real-life counterparts.
This is the first full-length movie from Sony Pictures Animation and while timing isn’t on its side – in the wake of “The Wild,” “Over the Hedge” and “Barnyard,” this year has been overloaded with similar fare – it features enough funny dialogue and clever action sequences to make it worth a look.
In the film, the domesticated, 900-pound grizzly bear Boog (voice of Martin Lawrence) has a good thing going for him. Since he was a cub, he has been raised by park ranger Beth (Debra Messing), who has turned her garage into a home for Boog that includes everything from comfortable bedding to a teddy bear to working plumbing. This bear uses a commode.
Beth loves him, the feeling is mutual, but what is becoming increasingly obvious is the rather large elephant that’s in the room with them – that would be Boog’s underlying need for the wide open spaces of his natural habitat, to which Beth knows he must return.
Circumstances call for that sooner than she anticipated. One night, after saving the rambunctious mule deer Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) from the film’s villainous hunter, Shaw (Gary Sinise), Boog and Elliot go out on the town, break into a convenience store and eat enough candy to cause a destructive sugar rush. They trash the store, which compels Beth to bring Boog high up in the forests of Timberline, which she hopes will be out of reach of the hunters soon to descend there for hunting season.
It isn’t. Still, what the hunters find is just what you expect – these animals have had enough and they’re ready to rumble, with beaver Reilly (Jon Favreau), McSquizzy the squirrel (Billy Connolly in full Irish brogue), and everything from skunks to rabbits to deer joining Boog and Elliot in formulating a revolution. They fight back, which gives the movie its violent jolt of energy (and its PG rating), particularly when the vicious Shaw darkens the picture with his inevitable appearance on the scene. Shaw’s rifle, after all, is lovingly called Lorraine, and how he treats her is more unsettling than how this movie would play at, say, an NRA convention.
On Blu-ray disc
DINOSAUR; EIGHT BELOW
Now on Blu-ray disc from Disney are two films, including “Dinosaur,” a satisfying rip-off of Don Bluth’s 1988 animated film, “The Land Before Time.”
Just as in “Time,” “Dinosaur” follows a group of dinosaurs escaping predators and destruction for the promise of lush, green nesting grounds that will save their lives – if, of course, they don’t die before getting there. The situations might be different along the way, but the premise is the same.
Twelve years in the making, this 2000 film rises above its familiar plot to mount a terrific spectacle of special effects, which then were particularly advanced for the time, and which now looks especially good in the film’s high-definition transfer. This remains among the best looking dinosaur movies ever, a film that boasts a breakthrough in the merging of digitally-enhanced, live-action backdrops to computer-generated images.
It’s often so breathtaking to watch unfold, and feels so real, parents of young, sensitive children should take note: This film may feature cute, cuddly dinosaurs and adorable lemurs that talk, but those gentle creatures are frequently put under attack by rampaging carnivores and blood-thirsty beasts.
To the screenwriters’ credit, the film does pack sufficient punch, bite and roar to keep the action moving at a stirring pace, and it’s blissfully free of song and dance numbers. But unlike Disney’s other animated pics, it’s surprisingly humorless, instead focusing on the very humanlike morals the film’s “good” dinosaurs share.
Another Disney film enjoying a high-definition Blu-ray transfer is “Eight Below,” a fine, moving film from director Frank Marshall follows the plight of eight sled dogs chained and stranded in the Antarctic after a sudden, killer snowstorm forces the scientists who led them there to evacuate without them.
Only Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is willing to fight for their survival, with months passing before he’s allowed to go back to the mountain in search of them. Meanwhile, the dogs depend on instinct and themselves to survive horrific conditions. The movie, a remake of the 1983 Japanese film, “Antarctica,” can be harrowing, particularly since little of this is played for Disney cuteness.
Dinosaur – Grade: B
Eight Below – Grade: B+
Visit www.weekinrewind.com, the archive of Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s reviews, which appear Mondays in Discovering, Fridays in Happening, and Weekends in Television. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.