The anthropomorphic animation has been the template for children's movies since forever. What kid (or grown-up) doesn't enjoy a wonderfully-told story presented through the actions of cuddly cartoons? As is now the standard, the latest addition to the genre - Alpha and Omega - also features a castlist of famous types behind the microphone providing their voices. As well as Dennis Hopper in one of his final roles as ageing alpha-male wolf Tony, the film stars Justin Long as the fun-loving omega Humphrey, Hayden Panettiere as alpha-female Kate, Danny Glover as her dad Winston, and Christina Ricci as the coquettish Lisa.
Alpha and Omega finds Kate and Humphrey yoinked from their home in Canada's Jasper National Park to repopulate a similar park in Idaho. They're childhood buddies, but despite an obvious mutual attraction, their differing social status means that the prospect of them "repopulating" with one another is out of the question. Besides, she's betrothed to Garth (Chris Carmack), with their proposed union potentially reuniting the warring Eastern and Western packs. As they try to make their way back to Jasper together, I wonder what could possibly happen? They're helped in their journey by friendly French-Canadian goose Marcel (Larry Miller) and duck Paddy (Eric Price).
The problem with Alpha and Omega is that it never really gets going. As it flicks back and forth between Kate and Humphrey's road trip and the events back in Jasper, you never get under the skin (fur?) of the characters enough to feel more than the slightest twinge when the inevitable occurs in the final reels. It's easy to (unfavourably) hold every animated feature up to Pixar's standards, but the movie that immediately springs to mind here is actually Disney's The Lion King. Compared to that masterpiece, Alpha and Omega just feels like filler - and pretty empty filler at that. A full 16 years after the death of Mufasa (and 68 after Bambi's mum pegged it) you'd hope that filmmakers would strive for more than just cutesy box-ticking for the young 'uns.
Instead of a film which bravely gets its claws into the potentially juicy stuff on offer (love, friendship, class, duty, responsibility, parental expectations and the rest), we get a little surface stroke which completely fails to satisfy. To say "Ah, but it's for the kids" does our youngest moviegoers a disservice - they deserve better and there is better out there. In a failed attempt to entertain older viewers, Alpha and Omega offers a clumsy mutual-howling-as-sex metaphor and Kate's mum's awkward attempts at menace. The animation is fine, but nothing special, and the 3D gimmick is really starting to wear thin. It's like watching a movie printed on a slightly dank transparency sheet projected over an underlit backdrop. There's a few laughs here and there (mainly from the bird duo of Marcel and Paddy), and the rest is mildly diverting, but for all the wolves on screen, this is a film that's sorely lacking any bite.
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