Open Season

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“Open Season” isn’t very funny or clever or particularly well-animated, but you gotta admire a film with enough chutzpah to go out into the world without a single original idea in its head. I couldn’t do that. If I were supposed to give some kind of public performance and had no material, I’d just say, “Sorry. I got nothin,'” refund everyone’s money, and go home.

But not the “Open Season” folks! In a rare example of a movie having more directors than writers (three to two), “Open Season” borrows, steals, imitates and rips off countless other animated films, some better and some worse than this one. Sony Pictures’ reasoning is probably that being new to the animated marketplace, they’ve got to establish themselves quickly, regardless of whether they have anything worth releasing. Just gotta get your foot in the door, you know?

Set in the picturesque mountain town of Timberline, the movie is about a grizzly bear named Boog (Martin Lawrence) who’s been completely domesticated and now lives in the garage of a park ranger named Beth (Debra Messing). Boog hops in the back of Beth’s truck every morning and the two drive to the Timberline National Park (it looks like a national park, anyway), where Boog performs in a little stage show for tourists. Think of Shamu, only for some reason Shamu’s owner takes him home every night.

Life is great for Boog, who was rescued at such a young age that he doesn’t remember the forest anymore. Then he meets Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a goofy mule deer who thinks Boog’s garage set-up is pretty sweet but who has something even sweeter to offer: candy bars. A sugar-fueled bender through town and a subsequent misunderstanding at the park lead Beth’s superiors to think Boog is no longer safe in captivity and should be returned to the wild.

So there’s Boog, out in the woods with Elliot, completely unfamiliar with the ways of the forest and unable to fend for himself — highlighting, by the way, why in real life an organization such as Beth’s would never, ever evict an animal like this. If they’ve lived in captivity almost their entire lives, they have no idea how to survive out in the open! And did I mention that hunting season starts in three days? Boog is as good as dead. Take the kids and leave now, because this cannot end well.

Oh, but I kid. Of course Boog and Elliot and the other woodland creatures thwart the hunters. The hunters are all portrayed as callous, evil rednecks, by the way, to the point of being excessive. I mean, I think hunting is creepy, and I’m all for making fun of gun nuts, but even I thought, “Gee, they’re kind of going overboard here….”

Boog and Elliot have a relationship reminiscent of Shrek and Donkey’s: one large, surly creature grudgingly dependent on the friendship of a smaller, hoofed mammal who has a talkative and childlike demeanor. But the similarities between this cartoon and others does not end there. It’s the third cartoon this year alone in which animals band together to fight humans who want to kill them (see also “The Ant Bully” and “Over the Hedge”), and the climactic battle strongly resembles the castle assault in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Furthermore, the jokes about “wild” animals not knowing how to fend for themselves are wearily reminiscent of “Madagascar” and “The Wild,” and “Open Season’s” tribe of squirrels are virtually indistinguishable from the lemurs of “Madagascar.”

The squirrels are Scottish, for some reason, and I admit to being amused by the diversity of accents in the forest. Two lady skunks are Puerto Rican, for example, some migrating ducks are French, there are Japanese fish in the stream, and the beavers, dogs, porcupines and other fauna seem to hail from around the globe, too. There are moments when the sheer number of odd characters interacting all at once amounts to giddy chaos — the fun kind, the kind the film could use more of.

But mostly it’s just tired old shtick, nothing more than Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, and plenty of do-bears-poop-in-the-woods jokes. Do we need this? Is this movie necessary?

C+ (1 hr., 39 min.; PG, a few fart and poop jokes and some sly double-entendre that kids won't get.)

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