Say hello to 900-pound grizzly bear, Boog (Martin Lawrence). He may not be smarter than your average bear, but is he is more lovable -- and he's domesticated. All of this poses a problem for his owner, park ranger Beth (Debra Messing), who's torn between keeping Boog and letting him roam free in the forest as nature intended.
Eventually, Beth will say goodbye, leaving Boog and his "deer friend" Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) to start a new life in the wild. Making loads of new friends and enjoying all sorts of shenanigans, they still long for home, and decide to make the trek back to civilization. But their adventure may be short-lived, as Shaw, a mullet-loving bear hunter (Gary Sinise) decides to make Boog his prime target. Can our bear and his deer friend make it out alive, when it is open season on anything big, furry and on four legs?
They say cuteness will only get you so far, which may be the problem with 'Open Season.' Without a doubt, the film is adorable. Animation never seems to tire of talking animals with attitude, and tear-jerking stories about orphans placed in strange environments who must find a new family and live happily ever after. It's shameless and manipulative, but let's face it, it's only because we continue to fall for this stuff that animation studios keep making it. 'Open Season,' however, never really transcends the familiar. Yes, the characters are likable, the situation is amusing, and the jokes make us laugh more often than not. But this movie just isn't in the same league as modern classics like 'Lion King,' 'Toy Story,' or even the more recent 'Happy Feet.'
The characters in 'Open Season' (especially the villain, Shaw) are completely one-dimensional, and the movie makes no attempt to deal with the issue of hunting in any meaningful way. Okay, I know, 'Open Season' is a kids movie, but unlike others in its category, it doesn't even try to appeal to the complexity and intelligence of an adult audience. And then there is the music -- woof. I expected more from ex-Replacements songwriter Paul Westerberg, who composed the movie's original songs. I can't remember a single song from the movie only minutes after watching it -- they truly are all awful. Seeing how Westerberg was one of the more talented indie voices of the '80s and '90s, this is a surprise.
What does make 'Open Season' worth watching is the animation, and, to a lesser extent, the talents of the voice cast. The film has a nice, bright visual look with bold colors and fluid camera moves. It doesn't approach the artistry of a Pixar, or even the uniqueness of Sony's superior 'Monster House,' but still, it's never less than pretty. Some of the performances also stand out. My faves are supporting players like the underrated Jane Krakowski, Billy Connolly and Patrick Warburton, who as furry, sarcastic critters outshine top-billed stars Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher.
And while nice pictures and funny voices may not be enough to elevate 'Open Season' to the top ranks of modern animation, there's definitely still lots here to keep the kiddies entertained.
'Open Season' is a bright, pleasant-looking movie that has obviously been engineered to delight the eyeballs of all those under the age of seven years old. And for whatever reason, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has chosen this title as their first on Blu-ray to feature a AVC MPEG-4-encoded 1080p transfer. The results appear to support the decision, with a wonderful presentation that is just about flawless, so much so that I can't help but give it a rare five-star video rating.
A direct-to-digital conversion, the image looks perfect. Unlike many recent all-CGI animated films, which often employ digital tweaks to look more "film-like" (fake grain, blurred out backgrounds, etc.), 'Open Season' doesn't bother with any false appearances. It's super-sharp, with most wide shots completely in focus, which lends it a real crayon-and-construction paper look. Many close-ups of animal fur and skins are breathtaking, and I could count the individual strands on the backside of Boog. Colors are very bright, if intentionally lacking the fine gradations of, say, a Pixar effort. Yet even with such huge, smooth areas of solid color, I don't think I've yet seen an animated feature on either Blu-ray or HD DVD that looks so consistently smooth and free of noise. Even some very dark nighttime scenes, which are flush with deep blues, hold up well in the shadows, with depth and detail remaining impressive. I can't say that 'Open Season' is a masterpiece of animation style, but in sheer technical terms, this transfer is without fault.
I wasn't as impressed with the film's audio as the video. Certainly, 'Open Season' is a lot of fun, with a couple of sonically thrilling sequences. But this uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track falls a bit flat for me, especially during the movie's musical numbers and quieter moments.
Technical specs are well up to snuff. The animal voices are all pristinely recorded, and constructed sounds are natural and realistic. Upper frequency range is expansive enough that minute details, such as a light wind noise or the rustling of animal fur, are clear and distinct. Low bass, too, can really jam, especially on the one truly engrossing audio sequence in the film, the river chase involving a waterfall and other obstacles. Unfortunately much of the soundtrack tends to be a bit front-heavy. I wished for a bit more atmosphere in the jungle, but was left unsatisfied. The songs also fell flat for me. The seem pushed down in the mix, as if they were flattened out on purpose so as not to interfere with the main action. Still, there is enough fun here to excite the little kids, and this soundtrack certainly never sounds bad.
Though Sony does not give 'Open Season' the BD-50 treatment, the more space-saving MPEG-4 transfer leaves room for a lot of extras. This one is really quite loaded, and it's a surprisingly nice mix of kid-friendly shorts and games, plus more informative material for adults.
Let's start with the fun for the kids. As is pretty standard on animated titles these days, there are a bunch of never-before-seen shorts. "Boog and Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run" is four minutes of the two characters attempting to to steal pastries from a campground. It sure made me hungry. There is also five minutes worth of "in-character" animated interviews. Dubbed "Inside the Animals Studio," the clips include "Mr. Weenie," "Porcupine" and "Maria the Skunk." Very cute stuff.
Also for the tots are three activities. "Voice-A-Rama" allows you to select different music cues sung by different character voices. It's enjoyable for a few minutes, but I doubt there is much replay value here. "Wheel of Fortune: Forest Edition" allows you to play a streamlined version of the TV game show. The game shows clips from the flick and requires you to identify details you might have missed. Unfortunately, it takes too long to finish the game, and the payoff isn't really worth it. The last of the three "games" is really a Scene Deconstruction for a three-minute scene, "Swept Away," which at last brings some multi-angle action to Blu-ray, allowing you to select four different views, including storyboards, layout, animation and final lighting.
Moving on to the more mature extras, there is an audio commentary with the three-person directing team Jill Culton, Roger Allers and Anthony Stacchi, plus producer Michelle Murdocca. It's nice to hear a group so enthusiastic about doing a commentary. The usual bases are covered, from the origins of the project to the characters, the voice talent and the music, so there are no real surprises here. But since the flick is so short at only 86 minutes, the track doesn't overstay its welcome. I'd never thought I'd hear such a thing, but the best way I can describe this commentary is "perky."
Two featurettes comprise the total of the behind-the-scenes video supplements. "Behind the Trees" runs 15 minutes and features interviews with the commentary participants, plus most of the major animators. The featurette focuses almost solely on the animation, including a lot of pre-production and rough footage, plus a bit on the music with composer Paul Westerberg. "The Voices Behind the Stars" runs only eight minutes but is a bit more fun, if only because I liked all the voice talent, and simply enjoyed watching actors like Debra Messing, Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher acting out their parts, sometimes with spastic motions (well, at least on Kutcher's part).
Next are two Deleted Scenes that run almost two minutes: “Forest 102” (0:38) and “Facial Tick” (1:25). Both, however, are in "story reel" form only, meaning a series of storyboard panels with basic dialogue, music and effects. There are also some still materials presented as "Beat Boards" (eight images in all), which are just conceptual drawings of early character designs.
Rounding out the package are some blatant promotional items. There is a makeshift music video for the song “I Wanna Lose Control (Uh Oh)” by Deathray, which is just a montage of film clips. Sony is also using 'Open Season' release as an opportunity to promote its next animated movie, 'Surf's Up." You'll find a two-minute Preview of the film, the actual Theatrical Trailer, and eight still images. Alas, there is no theatrical trailer for 'Open Season' itself included.
'Open Season' is a cute movie, and one kids will surely love. Unlike other films in its genre, however, this one isn't a home run for adults -- its story is marginal and the animation, while pretty, is no Pixar. Sony sure has loaded this Blu-ray release, however, with tons of family-friendly extras and the studio's first-ever AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which is stellar. Worth considering for purchase if you have little ones in the house, though more mature animation fans may want to confine it to a rental.