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Giddy ‘Open Season’ revels in its weirdness

Film is a step above the other talking-animal animated movies that came out all summer, because although it’s smart-alecky, it’s not annoying. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s too bad that “Open Season” is coming out now, at the end of a year that saw a flock of animated flicks about smart-alecky talking animals.

It has the obligatory all-star vocal cast (Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing) and a healthy sprinkling of pop culture references (Lawrence, as a domesticated grizzly bear, watches “Wheel of Fortune”).

But unlike “The Wild,” “The Ant Bully” or even “Over the Hedge,” which “Open Season” most closely resembles, it’s not insufferably obnoxious. Nevertheless, because all these movies seem virtually interchangeable at this point, it could get lost in the crowd.

This debut offering from Sony Pictures Animation has a giddy energy about it and a gleeful sense of its own weirdness, as evidenced by the casting of Billy Connolly as the furry-eyebrowed McSquizzy, the leader of an organized, angry band of squirrels who barks orders in a thick, Scottish burr.

McSquizzy is one of the many colorful figures Lawrence’s character, Boog, meets as he tries to get back home. (Think of “Open Season” as “The Odyssey,” with fur.) After a lifetime of functioning as the popular star attraction in the mountain town of Timberline, Boog gets shipped to the woods when he’s wrongly accused of mauling a deer (the scrawny, one-antlered Elliot, voiced by Kutcher).

He longs to return to the home he shares with dorky forest ranger Beth (Messing), where he sleeps in a comfy dog bed and eats and drinks from bowls — but swears he’s not a pet. Elliot, who got him into this mess in the first place, would like nothing more than to live such a luxurious life, and invites himself along for the journey. (The hyperactive, fast-talking Elliot is Donkey to Boog’s Shrek.)

Both members of this odd couple have the added incentive of finding a safe place to stay because open season is just a few days away, making them vulnerable to the impending influx of shotgun-toting hunters.

But naturally, Boog learns to survive and even thrive amid his fellow creatures, whether he likes it or not. They include the elegant doe Giselle (Jane Krakowski) and her boyfriend, Ian (the ever reliable Patrick Warburton), the arrogant king of the herd; bossy beaver Reilly (Jon Favreau), who’s supervising construction of a dam; and assorted adorable bunnies, ducks and even a porcupine.

This all probably sounds like pretty standard family fare. But “Open Season,” directed by Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi, has a distinctive aesthetic beauty. Yes, the grass looks grassy and the water looks watery and the wood looks woody, as we’ve come to expect from CG-animated movies. There’s something warmer about the lighting and richer about the colors, all deep reds and browns and lush greens, that makes you feel as if you’re really looking at life in the mountains.

The confrontations with an overzealous hunter (Gary Sinise) could be a bit scary for little ones, but the animal antics are appropriate for most kids, and their parents will appreciate the film’s frequently twisted sense of humor.