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Alpha and Omega DVD Review

Alpha and Omega (2010) movie poster Alpha and Omega

Theatrical Release: September 17, 2010 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Anthony Bell, Ben Gluck / Writers: Steve Moore (story & screenplay), Christopher Denk (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Justin Long (Humphrey), Hayden Panettiere (Kate), Dennis Hopper (Tony), Danny Glover (Winston), Larry Miller (Marcel), Eric Price (Paddy, Mooch), Vicki Lewis (Eve), Chris Carmack (Garth), Kevin Sussman (Shakey), Brian Donovan (Salty), Christina Ricci (Lilly), Maya Feltheimer (Bear Cub), Christine Lakin (Reba), Marilyn Tokuda (Claws, Janice), Eric Lopez (Can-do), Paul Nakauchi (Hutch), Bitsie Tulloch (Sweets), Mela Lee (Candy), Nika Futterman (Needles the Porcupine), Fred Tatasciore (Garn), Mindy Sterling (Debbie), Steve Vinovich (Park Ranger), Marcelo Tubert (Max), Toby Huss (Truck Stop Employee)

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Prior to 2005, there was practically no such thing as a low-grossing computer-animated film. Cartoon family movies using the latest technology were either hits (like Shark Tale and A Bug's Life) or huge hits (Finding Nemo, Shrek 2). Noticing this trend, just about every studio out there got into the CGI game and among that glut,
modest performers (Open Season) and even underperformers (Everyone's Hero, The Ant Bully) began to emerge. Last year reinforced the medium's commercial value. By next week, Tangled will have passed The Karate Kid in earnings, giving CGI family comedies five of the top ten grosses at the 2010 domestic box office.

Even so, the medium is not as bulletproof as it was in its infancy. Zack Snyder's Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole needed foreign tickets just to recoup its $80 million production budget. Still, that fantasy adventure domestically doubled and worldwide tripled the intake of the year's lowest-grossing all-CGI 'toon, Alpha and Omega. I don't think anyone was surprised by the poor showing of Lionsgate's comic wolf road trip adventure, the debut feature film from India's Crest Animation. Overvaluing the importance of its B-list cast ("Danny Glover AND Christina Ricci"?!), hopping onto the 3-D craze a year too late, and boasting graphics that looked straight out of 1998, Alpha carried a cookie-cutter feel that just wasn't enough to draw big crowds in today's marketplace.

While all the other wolves are howling with one another in the moonlight, jokester Humphrey and his geeky fellow Omegas must settle for the company of friends. The Alpha female Kate (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) is just the girl, she's just the girl, the girl Humphrey wants.

A romantic comedy at heart, Alpha and Omega centers on a couple of childhood friends who grow up and realize they're different. Kate (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) is an Alpha, strong and independent. Humphrey (Justin Long) is an Omega, resigned to life's sidelines with a pack of goofy geeks. Though he's aware of the untraversable lines dividing them, Humphrey still pines for the company of Kate. Kate, meanwhile, is supposed to marry airhead Alpha Garth (Chris Carmack), their union a strategic move to smooth over relations between our lead wolves and the rival neighbor Eastern Pack.

Before this arranged marriage can be seen through, Humphrey and Kate get caged, drugged, and taken to Idaho. The jarring experience is part of a well-intentioned human effort to get the two to "repopulate." This isn't the only surprisingly sexual angle of the plot; "howling" together at the moon is a clear euphemism for intercourse, the parallels of which are repeatedly turned into jokes. The movie doesn't linger on this mating business but it is no more or less trivial than any other idea thrown into the mix.

This is a paint-by-numbers production, filled with beats resembling ones from superior animated films, among them Disney's The Lion King, Brother Bear, and The Fox and the Hound (which producer Richard Rich directed). The central adventure/journey never even takes shape as it moves from one instantly forgettable diversion to another. One moment, a French-Canadian goose voiced by Larry Miller is golfing with an English duck caddy, the next there are some supposedly threatening bears in the snow. Neither these nor other scenes hit their marks and it feels like we're just killing time until the inevitable showdown and never doubted happy ending.

For comic sidekicks, we get overdramatic expatriates Marcel the French-Canadian golfer goose (voiced by Larry Miller) and his English duck caddy Paddy (Eric Price). The film's few action sequences, like this Humphrey/Kate log slide, seem designed with 3-D and video game rounds in mind.

Removed from overdramatic Internet hyperbole, at least, most people would agree that few modern computer-animated movies can be called worse than "harmless." Alpha and Omega truly is one of them. It is an unusually uninspired feature that wants the medium's all-ages appeal but doesn't have any idea how to obtain it. Is there any easier way to confess a lack of wit than with multiple pee jokes?
While those are unfunny, they'd be easier to forgive if the movie tried to be a flat-out comedy and failed. Instead, it seems to believe it's got meaningful contributions on such concepts as tolerance, harmony, and true love.

One of the most striking things about the film is its visual failure. Today, it is taken for granted that even CGI films lacking the evident human artistry of traditional hand-drawn animation and stop-motion will still be aesthetically pleasing. While Alpha isn't too hard on the eyes, its visuals are several leagues below any of its contemporaries. I've made (and frequently realized) a goal out of seeing every computer-animated movie given an American theatrical release and I can count on one hand the number whose crude CGI could be compared to this film's. Even if you can overlook minutiae like believable physics, you still might be bothered by the generic yet unappealing character design. It is worth noting that the film's budget, estimated between $20 and $45 million, is but a small fraction of the amount spent on this year's DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar films.

If you feel I'm overthinking and analyzing what is only meant to be a cute talking animal movie for children, welcome to film criticism and please hang up your kid gloves. I invite anyone to come forward and point out the merits of anything that Alpha and Omega does, without giving it a pass for being a family film (status its PG-rated innuendo may somewhat disqualify it from).

In small but highly-billed roles, Danny Glover and Dennis Hopper voice Winston and Tony, the patriarchs of the rival Western and Eastern wolf packs. To make sure no wolf is left behind, a supporting Alpha/Omega pairing is formed between airheaded Eastern hunk Garth (voiced by Chris Carmack) and Kate's shaggy-haired white wolf friend Lilly (Christina Ricci).

Alpha does a disservice to everyone associated with it. Justin Long may be a funny guy (you'd never know it only seeing this), but headlining another lackluster CGI toon (following Planet 51 and you might also count the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies) suggests he and animation should start seeing other people. Across from him, Hayden Panettiere retains none of the charm she brought to her childhood vocal work on A Bug's Life and Dinosaur. A far worse tragedy is this being one of the final roles of Dennis Hopper (playing the Eastern pack head), whose memorial credit is even awkwardly worded.

With this, directors Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck undermine the more than a decade of animation work they have put in prior to this, Bell on shows like "The Simpsons" and "Rugrats" and Gluck on movies like The Emperor's New Groove and 9. Credited writers Christopher Denk and Steve Moore suggest they're no better than their past animated features (Happily N'Ever After 2, Shark Bait, and Open Season) indicate.

Patterned after the far more successful Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Alpha and Omega's off-season theatrical release now gives way to an early January video debut. It bounds to stores next Tuesday on DVD and in a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. While the movie short-sightedly relies extensively on 3-D effects, none of them are able to be enjoyed in the home equivalent of that fading cyclical fad format.

Alpha and Omega DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Pack ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The animation may leave much to be desired, but expectedly the DVD's picture quality does not. A direct digital transfer utilizing every available pixel, the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is free from any defects or shortcomings. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is adequate. Like every other area, the film puts less thought into sound design than most of the competition. The dialogue is crisp and appropriate. Music and effects are clear. But the track doesn't often take full advantage of the sound field or make a strong impression.

Director Ben Gluck coaches a blurrily-dressed Justin Long in "Making of 'Alpha and Omega' Part 2." A couple of real wolves cuddle in the featurette "Wolves in the Wild."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

An above-average extras slate begins with the three-part "Making of Alpha and Omega" (20:56), which covers the usual bases, dividing its time between design, voice acting, and animation. It's all pretty routine but less superficial than you might expect, including remarks from the likes of Dennis Hopper, producer/Crest Animation president Richard Rich, and directors Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck. While all display more pride in the project than they ought to, the insight into the creative process (even the clothing-blurred, staged for cameras kind) is appreciated.

The featurette "Wolves in the Wild" (13:10) considers the animals personified in the film. A couple of wolf center employees discuss the physicality, personality, habits of wolves, little of which makes it into the movie itself.

As Marcel gives Humphrey and Kate some information on their Idaho whereabouts, the Animal Fun Facts track provides a stimulating statistic on goose poop. Choose the path to caribou with deduction not guesswork in the Log Sliding Game.

A fully-animated deleted scene (1:04) finds Humphrey flirting with, and howling for, Kate. There is nothing to explain why it was cut, or why the film's title appears within it.

The reason why subtitles can't be toggled during playback, Animal Fun Facts is a track of, uh, animal fun facts meant to enhance presumably a repeat viewing of the film. The small, plain white subtitles relate to what's happening or uttered onscreen. They only pop up as often as pertinent, but they do lend the disc some educational value.

A Log Sliding Game is simpler but more fun than most set-top activities. You're shown three paths Humphrey and Kate can slide down; you pick the one that leads to the caribou. There are four levels, each more challenging than the previous and each remaining the same on every play. It's nice that deduction is tested here, rather than random guesswork.

Answer ten questions like this to find out "Are You an Alpha or an Omega?" Flat renderings of Kate and Humphrey feature at the end of the DVD main menu's three-dimensional fly-around.

"Are You an Alpha or an Omega?" is a personality test. Based on your answers to ten general yes-or-no questions, which you must both answer and advance through,
you are determined to be one or the other. Turns out I'm an Omega.

"Also from Lionsgate" provides individual access to a variety of family DVD trailers, including the eclectic mix that play at disc insertion (for Thor: Tales of Asgard, Aardman's Timmy Time, Fred: The Movie, Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue, and Leap Frog: The Amazing Alphabet Amusing Park) and others (promoting "Wolverine and the X-Men": The Complete Series, The Spy Next Door, Battle for Terra, Angelina Ballerina: Love to Dance, Bratz: Pampered Petz, Leap Frog: Numbers Ahoy, and Shaun the Sheep: Off the Baa!). Duran Duran and Steppenwolf fans will be sad to note that Alpha and Omega's own trailer isn't included with all these others.

The DVD's pleasing animated main menu moves around a three-dimensional universe of flat character stills while score plays. All other menu screens are static and silent.

Compensating for the notice it didn't get in theaters, Alpha and Omega is packaged in a slick, extensively embossed cardboard slipcover. Taking up nearly as much space as the holographic title logo, a sticker on the sleeve advertises the one insert within, an ad and non-unique promo code for $50 off a stay at any Great Wolf Lodge.

Spending the night together on the Canadian Express train, Kate (Hayden Panettiere) begins to see Humphrey (Justin Long) in a new light (moonlight, in fact), as they break the rules and howl with one another.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Telling its derivative story forgettably and with crude, gimmicky visuals, Alpha and Omega is one of the rare animated films that doesn't work on any level without highly forgiving standards (or a furry fetish). Lionsgate's DVD serves up a quality feature presentation and a nice collection of extras, but since they're attached to such a weak film, you'll probably never see them or care.

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2010 Family Films: Toy Story 3 Marmaduke The Spy Next Door The Karate Kid The Sorcerer's Apprentice
From the Creators of Alpha and Omega: The Fox and the Hound Brother Bear 2 Bambi II Dinosaur The Emperor's New Groove
Lady and the Tramp Brother Bear Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa The Wild Bolt
Never Cry Wolf White Fang Fantastic Mr. Fox The Search for Santa Paws Pom Poko
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Surf's Up Chicken Little Valiant The Penguins of Madagascar: I Was a Penguin Zombie
Justin Long's Voice: Planet 51 Alvin and the Chipmunks Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Justin Long: Old Dogs Herbie: Fully Loaded Galaxy Quest | Hayden Panettiere: A Bug's Life Remember the Titans Ice Princess
Danny Glover: The Shaggy Dog (2006) Angels in the Outfield | Christina Ricci: Speed Racer That Darn Cat (1997)

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Reviewed January 7, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010-11 Lionsgate and Crest Animation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.