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OPEN SEASON (article first published : 2006-12-13)

What is it with the current fascination with computer animation, talking forest creatures and fish-out-of-water situations?

Open Season, which arrives hot on the heels of The Wild, Madagascar, Hoodwinked and Shrek, is the latest in a now-tired series and, albeit not without some fun moments, is also the least inspired and by far the weakest of recent animated treats.

All of which doesn't bode very well for Sony Pictures Animation, this being the first offering from that newly created stable.

Tired and predictable plotting, stolen ideas, unremarkable characters and a low laugh quotient are what one gets in a tale centring on the unlikely, initially reluctant friendship between a pampered, domesticated grizzly bear, called Boog (the voice of Martin Lawrence), and a hapless, mule deer with just one antler - Elliot, voiced by Demi Moore's toyboy, Ashton Kutcher.

The two meet when Elliot has been tied to the bonnet of a truck owned by a mullet-haired, teeth-gnashing hunter (Gary Sinise) - a tyrant who swears revenge when the mule deer wakes from a daze and escapes with a little help from Boog, pet of a local game ranger (Debra Messing).

The grizzly lives a life of luxury in the ranger's garage, where he is sung to sleep at night, given biscuits before being tucked in and has a furry-toy mascot to keep him company.

But Boog's time to return to the forest beckons - particularly after he and Elliot trash a convenience store - and the ranger is forced to return him to the wild.

When he wakes one day to find himself in pastures new, the wise-cracking and forest-wise Elliot alongside him, Boog's life takes a new turn.

Suddenly the grizzly that has yet to perfect his roar gets embarrassed about having to use a bush for a toilet and has trouble finding his own food. He also starts to rattle assorted neighbourhood critters, including two squabbling Latino skunks, a mean-spirited squirrel tyrant (Billy Connelly), a group of abused rabbits and two sad little ducks.

Throughout his mini adventures in the wild, Boog also bonds - a la ogre Shrek and Donkey - with Elliot, with whom he trades quips and insults in the build-up to the hunting open season which everyone in the wild fears.

Co-directed by Rogers Allers (co-director of Disney's The Lion King) and Jill Culton, who co-penned Monsters Inc, Open Season raised some laughs from little ones at an early evening performance, but it tends to drag and loses a lot of pace in the midsection.

It also, visually, offers little of distinction, while many of the jokes fall flat. 5/10 - Billy Suter




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