Friday, 3 November 2006

Open Season (2006)


In an average year, Sony Animation’s maiden cartoon effort would receive more attention and a warmer reception. It would be considered a fairly interesting cartoon – even if it is somewhat less than original, Open Season cobbles together familiar elements seen elsewhere to form an arguable superior and individualistic piece of animation. In other words, CGI animation is finally maturing to a point where there is an identifiable genre, one where directors and studios improve their movies and skills by evolution and experimentation with already-existing elements found in other genres, and not through constant reinvention of the wheel.

But since there are about 9 other animated films this year, you’d probably react to Open Season with a "Hmmmm. Okay. Fine." I assure you, that will be a mistake. It would be just wrong to see this animated film merely as a mixture of Madagascar (domesticated animals returning to the wild), Over the Hedge (much scenes of animals eating junk food in fake generic junk food product endorsements), and The Wild (character designs that look like animated plush toys). Open Season is much more than the sum of these, and is almost as good as The Wild while being slightly more original than Cars, while being zanier and wackier than any animated film from this year.

To boot, Open Season pairs a huge grizzly bear and a deer as the prerequisite odd couple. Not just any ordinary bear or deer: Boog (Martin Lawrence) is a domesticated bear living in the garage of Beth (Debra Messing), a nice forest ranger who dresses like Steve Irwin. The bear is well-trained – he sits on a potty when he needs to go, and goes to sleep easily with a stuffed toy, a blanket, and a good night song from mommy. He’s what every little tyke watching this movie should aspire to, essentially. And Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) is a deer with just one antler whom Boog regrets saving from demented game hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise), because Elliot is an even more extreme version of Eddie Murphy’s Donkey in Shrek.

Not long before tame domesticated bear meets mono-antlered deer, the duo will land up in lots of comic hijinks and get set free by Beth into the wild, where the animals belong. Three days before hunting season (or open season) begins. Will Boog and Elliot buddy up and save their hides – and those of the other forest animals – from the imminent arrival of Shaw and the rest of the big game hunters? Will Boog get used to living in the wild, or will he have to escape to the safety of… the city?

What makes Open Season far more entertaining and watchable than other talking animals cartoons this year is the incredible enthusiasm that Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher put into their voice acting. That, and the realisation by Sony Animation’s writing team that cartoons with fart jokes and too many pop cultural references have outstayed their long welcome. The comedy in this film are geared for kids, but are genuinely funny and entertaining that adults will end up grinning like crazy.

Character designs for this movie give it an entirely original look for a CGI animation film. While the animals tend to look like plush toys, the film plays with giving the background imagery a more traditional 2D cel look, while the long shots make the film look as though it was filmed with miniature models and stop animation. The look – while composed of highly unoriginal parts seen before in other cartoons, is a unique mix that is visually appealing and as quirky as the story.

Open Season is a pleasant enough way to spend time with your children on an afternoon.

First published at incinemas on 30 November 2006

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