It’s not like there’s anything particularly original in the first toon from Sony’s new animation division: woodland creatures come to anthropomorphic life, spout snark, learn lessons about friendship and such, and live happily ever after in the end. Ah, but the execution… this is as fresh, as clever, as lively, as huggable, as satisfying as animated movies get.
Now, to be sure, the 3D IMAX presentation is spectacular — it’s like you’ve jumped into the gorgeous alpine world of Boog the grizzly bear and his forest pals, and well worth the extra couple bucks over the regular multiplex admission. But what sends Open Season soaring mountain-high are the little bits of decorative embroidery, the visual and storytelling grace notes that make everything pop: the beat-up stuffed bear that lonely, people-raised Boog carries with him in the scary woods to comfort himself; the cute blank-faced porcupine who latches onto Boog and his reluctant tagalong, a mule deer named Elliot; even dumb Elliot’s good-natured acknowledgement that his name kinda sounds like “idiot.” (Bonus: Here are the very rare instances of toilet humor that are actually funny and spring from character, not from a Three Stooges impulse to debase.)
And the unexpectedly touching and hilarious voice performances are a wonderful surprise. Oh sure, you expect voiceover god Patrick Warburton to be outrageous, and he is, in a small part as the alpha buck who is Elliot’s nemesis. But Martin Lawrence (Bad Boys II) as Boog brings a gruff lovability to the big bear; Gary Sinise (The Forgotten) as a downright rabid hunter bent on hanging Boog and Elliot on his trophy wall is a manic riot; even Ashton Kutcher (to my great chagrin, after I just ragged on him for being so awful in The Guardian) as Elliot finds that sweet spot where a moron is charming.
It’s all simply perfect.