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"Alpha and Omega": Hungry Like A Wolf But Barks Like A Chihuahua

by on September 17, 2010

With the end of the summer movie season, and in the aftermath of Toy Story 3, Lionsgate and Crest Animation are releasing a new 3D animated feature, Alpha and Omega. The movie boasts an extremely talented and credible cast of thespians, but it is probably the most mediocre theatrical animated release in recent memory—3D presentation and all. And I’m not forgetting the horrendously mediocre Shrek The Third and Madagascar 2 when I say that.

Alpha and Omega is the story of two wolves, Kate (Hayden Panettiere) and Humphrey (Justin Long). Kate and Humphrey are childhood friends in the same wolf-pack, but Kate is born an alpha wolf and Humphrey is an omega wolf. In terms of this story, the alphas are the pack hunters and the omegas are apparently the comedians. It is unclear how the wolves apply or come up with the laws of division. (When watching Antz, at least one can visibly see the difference between soldier ants and the worker ants.) Kate goes away for the season to take alpha training which includes learning what I can only describe as wolf-fu. She returns a full grown adult, and Humphrey, now full-grown adult as well, is more smitten with Kate than ever. But even though Kate likes Humphrey, pack law dictates that alpha and omega wolves can never mate. Unfortunately for Kate, her alpha leader father, Winston (Danny Glover), has arranged a marriage with the son of a rival wolf pack leader, Tony (the late Dennis Hopper in his final acting performance). To achieve peace within Jasper National Park, Kate must marry Tony’s son, Garth (Chris Carmack), and unite the two rival wolf packs residing in the valley. Opting not to marry would result in war between the two packs.

A first meeting between Kate and Garth goes sour, since Garth’s wolf howling skills are extremely lame. Kate and Humphrey then get caught alone and tranquilized by humans, who relocate them to a wildlife preserve in Idaho in order to repopulate the area with wolves. However, alpha and omega wolves cannot mate, Kate and Humphrey try to return home to Jasper under the guidance of two screwballs: a French Canadian golfing duck, Marcel (Larry Miller) and his “caddy,” Paddy (Eric Price). Of course, the undeniable attraction Humphrey and Kate share could get in the way of the future that wolf law deems appropriate for the two.

The writing and dialogue in the story leaves much to be desired. I usually have a major problem with talking animals in animated films. How can talking animals be aware of pop culture and speak in such modern syntax, for instance? Depending on the story, sometimes you can overlook such things. For instance, in the world of Finding Nemo, fish and underwater creatures are very much influenced by things they see and hear from the human world. In Finding Nemo, the fish in a fish tank in a dentist’s office can pick up on what goes on in the dentist office and become very aware of dental terms of procedures. In contrast, Alpha and Omega contains no such details in its back story. The jokes are generally forced and rarely funny. I did give it one token chuckle when two vegetarian wolves stage a protest against the two opposing wolf armies and advise the wolves to eat organic. At one point, caribou mockingly stick their butts out toward the wolves, and Humphrey remarks something of the effect of, “Now that’s a moon I don’t want to howl at.” Yuck, but hey, perhaps kids will enjoy this type of rapier wit.

Alpha and Omega is also more or less a perfect example of how many 3D theatrical releases are cheap, quick, money-grabbing gimmicks. The presentation rarely looks 3D anyway. There are some token shots here and there where objects are thrown out toward the foreground. However, the 3D rarely, if ever, truly pops out visually in the movie. The backgrounds lack depth. At times the landscapes look flat and hand-painted, and not at all 3D dimensional. The closing credit sequence is the only sequence that truly looks and feels 3D.

The animation for the film is shoddy at times, and the backgrounds lack depth and the beauty of the wilderness. At times it appears that certain animation shots have been rushed into the feature without even being finished. Overall, the wolf characters look overtly way too cute. The wolf form of martial arts looks silly. None of the characters are distinct or leave a strong impression, except for the ducks that look like they were ripped off from the 1990s animated feature Balto.

Perhaps some would say the expectations for a movie like this are too high when compared to the works of Pixar, Miyazaki, Walt Disney, or the true visionaries of theatrical animation. However, when box office tickets demand more and more of your money for digital projection, I-MAX, 3D presentation, or all of the above, viewers should be selective with their disposable income in this economy. The story is dull, yet might entertain and engage little kids. Keep that in mind when deciding whether the movie is truly worth an expensive trip to the cinema.

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