Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Open Season

When I got my e-newsletter from the Essex Cinemas this past week, Eric Evenson (the Web Master par excellence) said we could expect a triple-play in terms of new and interesting releases that would appeal to a wide variety of people. He was right. With The Guardian and School for Scoundrels, adults and teens got their fill and children (and big kids like me who love animated films) were blessed with Sony Pictures Animation Studios first computer-generated effort, Open Season.

Anyone who has visited the
Essex Cinemas in the past month or two is familiar with Open Season for no other reason than the glorious life-sized display in the lobby that shows the forest animals who star in the film. It’s hard to ignore a seven foot grizzly bear, especially one with a plunger. As a matter of fact, by the time the film finally arrived I felt like I had already seen it since I’d spent so much time admiring the characters from their cardboard beauty next to the concession stand. It wasn’t until halfway through the movie that I realized that the reason it seemed so familiar wasn’t because of the display. It was because I had seen this movie before. Only then it was called Shrek.

Basically, Open Season is a riff on Shrek with more than a dollop of Finding Nemo thrown in for good measure. The characters and story are nothing new, but I’m not complaining (well, maybe just
a wee bit) because co-directors Roger Allers (director of The Lion King), Jill Culton (writer of Monsters, Inc.) and Anthony Stacchi (effects animator on Hook and Ghost) have brought together an incredible cast to breathe life into their creations and make getting lost in the wilderness seem almost like a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

That “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” is the favorite song of our hero, a spoiled and pampered grizzly named Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence; Big Mama’s House 1 & 2). Spray paint him green and you’ve got Shrek, but
here he is a cuddly if klutzy bear. If this wasn’t a cartoon Robin Williams could probably strip and play him in the nude. Anyway, Boog lives with the all-too-earnest Park Ranger Beth (Debra Messing; of tv’s long-running “Will & Grace”). I like Beth. She reminds me of ‘Miss Hathaway’ from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” I can’t decide if she is man-starved or a lonely lesbian, but either way she is going to scare away any suitors living as she does out in East Nowhere Falls and wearing the worst ‘girl scout’ haute couture in history. That and her living with a species known for being man-eaters just might explain why she’s stocking up on batteries and going to bed at night around 8:00pm. Poor Boog. She won’t even let him stay up and watch “Wheel of Fortune.” She forces him to go to sleep with his trusty teddy, Dunkleman, the minute Pat Sajak spins the wheel.

It’s no wonder then that Boog is ready for a taste of adventure, and when he meets Elliot (Ashton Kutcher; The Guardian), a deer mistaken for dead and tied on the hood of a hunter’s truck, he is more than happy to free the little fellow despite knowing that the owner of the truck, a very annoying gun nut named Shaw (Gary Sinise; tv’s “CSI:NY”), would take such an act personally. And so he does.

Shaw goes ballistic, and he is determined after this to get both the deer and the bear for his trophy wall. With hunting’s Open Season just a couple of days away, he is ready to kill and knows exactly who he’s going after, no matter how domesticated a certain bear might be.

Now as unbearable (sorry) as this might be, it only gets worse. Elliot, you see, is in dire need of a friend, and so he follows Boog home where he entices the big boob into joining him for a little breaking and entering at a local convenience market. There Boog discovers the pure joy of sugar ~ candy, soft drinks, squishies, cereal, quickly followed by the not so joyous experience of capture and expulsion into the wilderness. And so begins the real story, as clichéd as it may seem, as Boog and his annoying sidekick pal (a talking deer instead of a donkey in this movie) find themselves the proverbial “fish out of water” as both hope to make their way home.

Now this is where the story could strain almost any adult’s consciousness. Do we need to watch a
bear learn to forage for food, to find his way through a forest, or deal with a pesky influx of squirrels? Probably not, but thanks to the voice talents involved, every creature Boog encounters and every act he engages in brings forth at least a chuckle if not an out-and-out belly laugh. Billy Connolly (Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties), for instance, turns his silly little squirrel into a monstrous tyrant of the trees as McSquizzy. Why, one wonders, is a very Scottish squirrel leading the multitudes of other bushy-tailed nut hurlers in protecting their turf from all who come their way, but I tend to believe it must be because the forest is comprised mostly of Scottish pines. Hey, it’s just a guess.

Why, too are the local skunks speaking with decidedly “black” and Latino dialects, sounding, as Oprah calls it, “all ghetto”? Its little injections of adult humor here and there that keep the grown-ups from nodding off, while the kids in the audience never even notice these superfluous additions.

The biggest laughs of all for both kids and their parents come when we find an age-old question finally answered once and for all: Do bears *ahem* go potty in the woods? Who would have thought that would even show up in a movie like this, and yet it does, a couple of times, and I’ll not spoil the answer for you but I will definitely give credit to writing partners Steve Bencich and Ron Friedman (Chicken Little) for handling the topic tastefully yet hilariously.

If I was going to gripe at all about the content of Open Season it would only be about some of the cartoon violence and its’ effect on the youngest of viewers. Small kids might be scared by the character of Shaw, who takes several close shots at Boog and Elliot with his shotgun, and later tries to stab the bear with an enormous knife when he has him cornered in his own home. Then there’s also the brief flashback of Shaw running Elliot down with his truck. I’m no psychologist, but I still remember some of the vivid images I saw as a wee one that have affected me for decades. I’ve never gotten over Old Yeller, I felt betrayed by The Yearling, horrified by what happened to Bambi’s mother, and I still can’t talk about my reaction to Sister Mary Stephen’s reading the ending of Charlotte’s Web to us in the first grade. With the new movie version coming out in a few months starring Dakota Fanning, the voice of Julia Roberts, and a pig, I am already starting anti-anxiety medication in preparation for what happens to that damned spider. A spider, for crying out loud! If it could happen to me, it could happen to one of your little nippers too, so you might want to remind the littlest ones in the audience that this is only a movie. And please, do it before the movie begins. Once the lights go down the lips should go shut. It’s a motto I wish every theater in the world would post over their thresholds for customers going inside. When I see a movie about animals with no manners. I expect to see them on the screen, not in the row in front of me. It’s just my opinion, but there you go.

Enjoy Open Season at the
Essex Cinemas. It’s a rare opportunity for entire families to enjoy a movie out together.

No comments: