There have been so many animated talking animal movies in the last couple of years that it is getting hard to tell one from another. Remember the one where the animals break out of the New York City zoo and travel back to Africa? Wasn’t that Madagascar? Or was it The Wild? Actually it was both. These movies have become so interchangeable that even the five year olds that make up their target audience must have a sense of déjà vu when they go to the movies.
The latest animated movie to recycle this journey theme is called Open Season, and it is essentially the same story with a few minor tweaks. Martin Lawrence voices Boog, a friendly, spoiled bear who lives in his trainer’s garage. Like the lions in The Wild and Madagascar he’s the pampered king of his urban environment and knows little about nature. He performs in a wildlife show and is perfectly content until a fast-talking deer named Elliot comes along. Elliot, voiced by Ashton Kutcher, shows Boog how to punk the local convenience store, a move that convinces his custodian that he should be returned to the woods. The kind-hearted keeper drops him in the middle of the woods, far from hunters who have declared open season on every living thing in the forest.
Boog is lost without the comforts of home and is determined to make it back to his old way of life, but first he must answer that age-old question, “Does a bear s**t in the woods?” Apparently not if your name is Boog and you’ve been raised in a garage with indoor plumbing. He must also learn to fend for himself and out-smart a psycho hunter who has a vendetta against all furry creatures.
With a story this familiar the movie really needs some exceptional voice work to elevate itself above the others, but few of the voices here are remarkable. Lawrence and Kutcher do good work, as do supporting actors like Scottish comedian Billy Connolly who lays on the brogue as a belligerent squirrel, and Patrick Warburton who lends his distinctive “Puddy” voice to Ian, the vain deer, but most of the voices are quite ordinary, the kind you hear on straight-to-video animated releases.
Open Season is an amiable enough movie, with a few laughs and the kind of life lessons about friendship that have become commonplace in these animated movies, but I left the theatre feeling like I had been there and done that. The similarities to other recent movies are so strong that it takes more than just a couple of new characters doing the same old jokes to maintain interest.