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.