Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega (2010): United States – directed by Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains butt shots, some crude humor

Alpha and Omega, despite some high profile voice actors and the melancholy accompanying it due to Dennis Hopper’s death, ultimately falls flat as an animated feature and a family film.  There are enough cute moments to entice younger children, but then why is there so much innuendo and so many butt jokes?

The story itself is a little on the tame side.  Kate (Hayden Panettiere) and Humphrey (Justin Long) are introduced in the opening scenes, cavorting and having fun together as young wolves are apt to do.  But even at an early age they realize that they won’t be able to be together, as Kate is an alpha wolf in training under the tutelage of her father, Winston (Danny Glover), who is the clan leader.  And Humphrey is an omega, the stupidest of the stupid wolves.  He’s forced to hang out with lame friends (even though he likes them) and the only girl wolves he can hope to get are the berry-loving vegetarian organic types.

But the upcoming divide doesn’t dull his interest in Kate, and they remain playmates until trouble strikes.  On a caribou hunt for the tribe, Kate is thwarted by wolves of the Western pack.  Their land is barren and they’ve been encroaching on the Eastern pack’s ground even though it goes against the treaties agreed upon by Winston and Tony (Dennis Hopper), the leader of the Western pack.

Out of necessity it is decided that the two packs must be joined and Kate married off to Garth (Chris Carmack), Winston’s Tony’s (edit: corrected) alpha son.  Before Kate, who has a keen understanding of her duties and responsibilities to her tribe, can fulfill the necessary arrangements of marriage, she and Humphrey are tranquilized by Wildlife Rangers and packed up.  They are shipped from their home in Jasper Park, Canada, all the way to the wilds of Idaho.

Here they meet an unlikely duo: the premiere golfing goose, Marcel (Larry Miller), and his caddy, Paddy (Eric Price).  Marcel and Paddy offer to help Humphrey and Kate find their way home, and the odd quartet make the strange journey back to Canada and find their requisite love and adventure along the way.  Back at the home camp, meanwhile, Kate’s younger sister Lilly (Christina Ricci) is falling in love with Garth.

Garth lets himself associate with Lilly, even though she’s not an alpha, because he has a strange defect that makes him not as attractive to the alpha females.  And this is where the film sidetracks into risque territory, as the strange ritual of howling is described.  Howling involves wolves matching up with members of the opposite sex and singing to the moon while they wiggle their bodies around each other and nuzzle.  This is a sacred ritual, one that alpha’s are not allowed to perform with omega’s.  Garth is a terrible howler, and causes one of the film’s brightest moments when his singing continually knocks cute little birds out of the sky.

The innuendo involved with the howling ritual, combined with an extraordinary number of butt-shots, make it an odd choice for a children’s film.  Perhaps some of the racier jokes will slide past young ears, but they will certainly understand the concept of throwing up in one’s mouth and swallowing it, as happens within the first three minutes.

Unfortunately, this is just one of Alpha and Omega’s problems.  The problems start the moment the 3D glasses go on and the murky, cloudy picture gets started.  Problems continue with the blocky and eerily animated creatures, who don’t walk like wolves walk and don’t walk like humans walk.  When you hear stories of the Disney animators bringing in lions to study when making The Lion King [review here] (a film Alpha and Omega copies with a giant caribou stampede), any effort less than Disney’s becomes substandard.  The graphical problems continue, as there doesn’t seem to be a physics engine built into the design, and the characters’ movements are almost as blocky as the character models.

The film’s attempts at relevant pop culture are oddly situated, with fist-bumping wolves not seeming like the most natural choice.  The voice actors, particularly Justin Long, try desperately to inject life into the characters, and sometimes it almost works.  Some of the landscape shots do look rather nice, and have a nearly cel-shaded feel to them.  Ultimately, however, the film is a distant finisher behind all of Pixar’s, Disney’s, and Dreamworks efforts, and Universal’s Despicable Me [review here].  In many ways Alpha and Omega feels like it never underwent a creative process, but that it was assembled by executives and businessmen wanting to cash in on the 3D craze.  Without the 3D as a crutch and a host of recognizable voice actors, Alpha and Omega should have been relegated to the straight-to-DVD pile.

7 thoughts on “Alpha and Omega

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  2. Niki

    This review is totally wrong. First off, to be a movie critic you must put the characters in the right place. Tony is GARTH’S father, not Kate’s. WINSTON is Kate’s father. Also, the “butt jokes”, as you put it, provide humor that, in my opinion, holds the attention of adults and children, without entering into more “risque” areas. The plot is simple enough for young children to follow while keeping them entertained. As soon as this film was released into my local theatre, I took my two nephews (ages 4 and 6) to see it. They had a wonderful time, and to see them understand what is going on in the film warmed my heart. They both STILL enjoy it, even months after its initial release. The directors of Alpha and Omega obviously took into account that different age groups would be viewing this film, and they saw fit to add humor, playful romance, and fun to the film, which has captured audiences for years. Alpha and Omega ranks at the top with Balto, another movie about the most majestic creature in the animal world. Furthermore, posting such a demeaning review of this film so shortly after Dennis Hopper’s death is one of the greatest insults I have ever come across.

  3. Niki

    I honestly don’t believe you even understood the film yourself. Everything you’ve said thus far is opposite of the truth, as far as which character is which, and even the difference between the Eastern and Western packs. When you make a review of a film…it sort of helps your case to know what you’re talking about.

  4. Tim Irwin Post author

    Thanks for pointing out the factual inaccuracies in my story, Niki. I believe I have corrected them.

    As for your thoughts on the film, I am very glad your nephews and yourself enjoyed it. I wouldn’t want to disparage anyone’s good time at the movies, and take pains to ensure my reviews do not denigrate any viewer’s own experiences. I am relieved to know that the scatological humor was not inappropriate, in your opinion.

    As for not understanding the film, this is why film criticism exists, and why people enjoy talking about films a great deal. Each viewer has a unique experience, and these often vary wildly. I was not impressed by the film, whereas you and your family enjoyed it greatly.

    While I could say I was grateful for having written one of the most demeaning insults you’ve experienced, it would only be sarcasm on my part. I stand by my thoughts on the film, and it would be disingenuous of me to alter my review of a film based on external factors. As a result, it is an unfortunate coincidence that this is one of Hopper’s last films, and I wish his legacy no disrespect.

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