Boog (Martin Lawrence), a domesticated bear living with a park ranger (Debra Messing) in a small mountain community, is perfectly happy. Living in the ranger's garage, they make the trip into town on a daily basis and Boog performs to the delight of dozens of children. One day, after the show, the ranger pulls up to the Sheriff's office and Boog waits in the back of the Jeep. Shaw (Gary Sinise), a backwoods man who only lives to hunt, shows up with a buck on his hood. As soon as Shaw leaves, Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), the Buck, wakes up and pleads with Boog to help him get free. Boog reluctantly agrees and Shaw watches this from inside the station. Eventually, with just three days to Open Season, Boog and Elliot find themselves out in the wilderness and Boog is desperate to get back to his safe garage. But he meets many animals out there and they form an alliance to protect themselves against the hunters.
"Open Season" is a cute, humorous film that will keep both children and the adults chauffeurs happy. It falls short of becoming a classic, but it is certainly one of the better non-Disney/ Pixar animated offerings out there.
When I initially saw the trailers for "Open Season", Martin Lawrence seemed an odd choice to play a cartoon character. The clips featured him providing a very laid back persona for the character. But this actually works very well. Boog is a large Grizzly Bear and he isn't going to be as frantic or fast paced as Elliot, a little hyperactive buck. Because of his size and the nature of his character, he takes a moment or two to figure things out before acting. It is an amusing performance.
From the moment we meet Boog, the filmmakers show his eccentricities. He is a Grizzly Bear, but he has been domesticated. He lives in a garage and sleeps on his bed, with his stuffed teddy bear. Beth, the ranger, has to tuck him in at night and sing "The Teddy Bear's Picnic" to get him to go to sleep. Then, when he is initially exposed to the wilderness, he panics, because he isn't used to it. Gradually, he meets other animals and he and Elliot form a sort of odd couple and help the animals band together.
Ashton Kutcher provides a nice balance to Martin Lawrence. As the hyperactive Elliot, he is initially very happy to show Boog everything he has learned about the outside world. Elliot introduces Boog to candy, sugar and other human delicacies. Then, they both get transported to the wilderness and both are shocked but Elliot realizes Boog will need his help to survive. Throughout, Elliot isn't above playing on the emotions of his fellow animals to get his way. For instance, after they first arrive in the wilderness, Elliot gets stuck and Boog only wants to get home, and feels he will be able to make better time with out the little deer, so he leaves Elliot in his predicament. But Elliot knows the large bear will soon need him and waits it out.
Throughout, they meet a plethora of characters, including a squirrel named McSquizzy (Billy Connolly), leader of an army of squirrels who protect the trees of the forest, Ian (Patrick Warburton), the leader of a herd of deer, Mr. Weenie (Cody Cameron), a little dachshund who escapes from his owners, Bobbie (Georgia Engle) and her husband, and many more. Ducks, porcupines, skunks and rabbits all make appearances and help the animals battle the hunters.
Gary Sinise does a very good job of bringing Shaw to life. This is one twisted dude, who lives in a little shack and relishes the moment he can hunt, and kill animals, and stop the 'animal rebellion'. He is a cross between a character from "Deliverance" and some of the villains from recent Disney animated films. It's nice work, but there are a few too many scenes showing Shaw talking to himself about the animals taking over, or the like, in an effort to prove how crazy he is. We get it.
There are a number of funny jokes and references to the animals and their environments. Since Boog is domesticated, he has difficulty going to the bathroom in the woods. Get it? Rabbits frequently pop up in the place of other items, a funny running gag. When Elliot first tries to attract Boog's attention, he throws rabbits at a window and they each flatten out before falling down and running off. Later, Boog tries to dry off and grabs something and it turns out to be rabbits.
The animation in "Open Season" appears to have been influenced by the great Looney Tunes shorts and Chuck Jones in particular. Each of the animals has a distinct personality and frequently break into grins, much like Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester. Each is also slightly off, to varying degrees, making them interesting and clear descendents of the great Looney Tunes. I'm not saying they are as good as these classic cartoons, but the influence is noticeable and enhances this film more than you might imagine.
"Open Season" is not the best animated effort I have ever seen, or even the best this year, but it is enjoyable and will keep both the kids and the parent chauffeurs amused.