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Alpha and Omega

Animated family flick misses the mark

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Alpha and Omega

Directed by Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck

Opens Sept. 17

It's easy enough to make a movie that will entertain a preschooler—especially when it's in 3D—but the best kids movies succeed in two arenas: creating a convincing, aesthetically pleasing fantasy world and filling that fantasy world with likeable, flawed characters and deep emotional plugs. Alpha and Omega, unfortunately, misses the mark on both.

Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) are kid buddies in their wolf pack until Kate goes off to alpha training to become a future pack leader. Humphrey is an omega; his pack role is merely comic relief. The two classes traditionally never mix, but when Humphrey and Kate find themselves relocated from their Canada home to an Idaho park to “repopulate,” Humphrey shows he can be more than a joke as he helps Kate get home to fulfill her responsibility of marrying a rival pack’s male alpha. Yeah.

Alpha's biggest pitfall is its cowardice. Instead of facing conflict head on and giving kids a bit of something real—where the under-appreciated Coraline succeeded so brilliantly—Alpha sidesteps all its trials, creating a thin veil of suspense that is always quickly and conveniently wrapped up. It even unashamedly rips off The Lion King’s stampede, in which Simba’s father died, giving hope that perhaps the directors will do something courageous, but wimps out when the victim (spoiler alert) doesn’t die.

And rather than letting this movie be what it is—something colorful for kids to laugh at—the writers inject random jabs at adult humor that are, frankly, awful. A French golf-playing pheasant and his British duck caddie bicker over whether a bird from Canada is truly French or merely French-Canadian; Kate and Humphrey endure an awful rendition of an acid trip when they're shot with tranquilizer darts. The jabs at vegetarians and the organic movement, aside from being irrelevant, feel inappropriate in this environmentally unstable age, and the interpretation of moonlight howling as sub-par soul singing and animated-wolf freak dancing is downright embarrassing.

This is not to say, of course, that straight-up silliness doesn't have a place in children's theater. Up pulled off dogs that talked through futuristic collars and did the bidding of an evildoer; Finding Nemo convincingly offered a group of sharks in a meat-eaters’ support group. The trick is to use such silliness with purpose, and balance it with the truly devastating (Up’s miscarriage) or terrifying (Nemo’s opening attack), guaranteeing audience members big and small an intensely emotional and beautiful ride. Alpha and Omega fails pretty much everywhere.