Just as some people are sure that the never-ending array of 3D movies is going to reach a stemming point, another animated 3D film hits the screens.
Anyone who’s seen the previews for this film has probably asked themselves, “Does this movie really need to be in 3D? And why is there so much innuendo….” Well, the film doesn’t make a large use of the 3D so if you’re not into forking over the extra $5, you aren’t missing much. As for the latter bit, well, what family animated film isn’t highly suggestive these days?
Amid the rampantly unfounded hatred and scrutiny that assaults this film; Alpha and Omega offers audiences a chance to relive their fondest memories of 2D animation tales (unsurprising considering directors Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck have had their hands in works such as Rugrats and other classic Disney films) from the days before names such as Pixar jumped into the now billion dollar 3D market of average children’s films, despite it being defined by its own medium as 3D. Could there perhaps be some missing layers designed by the playwrights that the larger audience and critics have yet to fully understand about this film?
To better understand what makes this movie tick, let’s dig into the basic necessities of this modern day theatrical development.
In terms of plot, Alpha and Omega revisits a particular sector of animated film we haven’t seen in a while—that of a romantic action/comedy, with high emphasis on the romantic bit. The tale starts honestly enough in Jasper Park, Canada with Omega wolf Humphrey (Justin Long) and Alpha wolf Kate (Hayden Panetiere).
Writers Chris Denk and Steve Moore take no time at all to suggest the romantic foreshadowing between these two wolves and at portions it can ascend into the rough edges of cliché, but it is hardly an issue given the value this movie puts on its comedy. Although the duo seem to be a match from the get-go, they are soon made aware by Winston (Danny Glover), Kate’s father and the Western wolf pack leader, that they should not become too close as they are tied to separate fates (the hunting Alpha leaders and the playful Omegas) and can never be together (conflict one).
Skip forward some number of years and we are presented with a highly trained Kate and a clever Humphrey. Though the pair doesn’t seem to have drifted apart much, it becomes evident very quickly that Kate views Humphrey as ‘just another silly Omega’ with Humphrey slack-jawed at every site of her. As the pseudo-opening scene progresses we are informed that the valley where the wolves reside is at a loss of Caribou (the wolves’ primary source of food) and so the neighboring Eastern wolf pack begins encroaching on the Western wolves’ territory (enter conflict two).
So how is this disastrous situation resolved? Winston meets with Eastern pack leader Tony (Dennis Hopper) and pledges Kate’s hand in marriage to Tony’s son, Garth (Chris Carmack), to unite the packs and join the territories (though rest assured that Kate isn’t too entirely thrilled with the prospect of marriage just yet, she sucks it up like a good Alpha and does as her father says).
To kick off the ‘engagement’ the wolves have a ceremony at each full moon where partners howl at the moon together (no, it’s not an allegory for sex like some of you may have thought. It seems to be more of an assurance of bonds or representation of soulful attachment). To prepare for the occasion Humphrey and his Omega gang: Salty (Brian Donovan), Shakey (Kevin Sussman), and Boomer (uncredited at time of writing) make ready to meet the ‘ladies’ and spruce up in nerdish disco fashion for the big night. Upon their inevitable failure at sought after love, Humphrey finds himself faced with his own mountainous challenge—wooing over the incredibly beautiful (and untouchable) Kate.
To his dismay, however, it’s Fall and Monday Night Football kicks off earlier than he anticipated. Oh wait, that’s just Garth making a dramatic, super-masculated entrance (props to the music crew though, I couldn’t stop laughing at Garth’s theme song). Kate and younger sister Lilly (Christina Ricci) ogle the Eastern Alpha as he makes his entrance while Humphrey takes up the opportunity to make a fool out of himself—a pattern that continues through the rest of the film.
Kate and Humphrey get into an argument over her obvious lack of attraction to Garth when the unthinkable happens—the two wolves are sent on a psychedelic trip to LSD town (oh wait, no, those are tranquilizer darts, sorry) and wake up on the way to an animal preserve in Idaho where they must ‘repopulate’. (Oh yes, the third and final conflict)
French-Canadian goose Marcel (Larry Miller) and English duck Paddy (Eric Price) help the wolves find a way back home and make sure they don’t get too distracted (though they only show up at the least convenient times).
Back in Jasper Lilly takes time to show Garth around the valley and the oddly cute couple begins falling for one another (not much screen time given to it, but definitely a crucial part of the story).
As Humphrey and Kate approach home on a train the heart-throbbing Omega sings his loudest and proudest as Kate stares on in disbelief. Though she has been growing more and more attached to the male she cannot get past the basics of the Pack Law—Alphas and Omegas cannot be together. Inevitably, however, she breaks down under his persistence and sings quite the beautiful serenade with Humphrey as they arrive home.
With a lackluster crescendo but tear-jerking and heart-pounding ending, you’re gonna have to see it for yourself to find out what happens.
Aside from the music score, the actors and their portrayal of their characters really saves this movie. The casting agents did their homework and leads Justin and Hayden fit their roles like a glove. Though we don’t see much of Kate’s mother Eve, Vicki Lewis is a hilarious psychotic mother-figure. With lines like “I’m going to rip your eyes out and shove them down your throat so you can watch me tearing your carcass open”, you can’t help but feel sorry for anyone who crosses her path.
The fantastic duo of Paddy and Marcel have some of the best lines in the film and are the ‘comedic’ half of this movie’s romantic comedy (barging in on Humphrey and Kate on more than one occasion when they start getting too buddy-buddy). Supplementing this class act are Humphrey’s geeky friends Salty and Shakey, as well as a few hippy wolves that are sure to receive a few chuckles.
An unfortunate loss for this film is the lack of screen time given to Kate’s sister Lilly and Eastern Alpha Garth. This couple received little emphasis but in some respects their relationship is more believable and influential than that of Humphrey and Kate. Christina Ricci captures Lilly perfectly with her soft-spokenness and child-like inquiring. Cute and bashful come to mind as everyone is bound to fall in love with this character. Though Garth seems to be underplayed in the film, don’t let his macho physique and hilariously inventive theme song color the poor wolf as a bad guy—on the contrary, even this beast of burden has a soft heart when it comes to the petite and loving Lilly.
Some parts of dialogue in the movie can seem extremely cheesy, but all-in-all the actors transcend these harsh parameters and are able to overcome some of the written limitations given to them. And although not given many lines, pack leaders Danny Glover and Dennis Hopper do a sound job as the elderly father figures in the movie (and it’s safe to say that Dennis Hopper would be proud of his final theatrical achievement before his death).
When it comes to animation, the animation on this film isn’t the greatest in the world and I have to recognize that as one of the crucial flaws to this film, but for a low-budget film whose agency has never done animation (we’re dealing with Lionsgate, not Pixar or Disney) this came out pretty damn good.
There are especially a few places in the film where the characters seem to glow or dim based on how vibrant and alive they are. Another concept that Crest Animation seems to be using is putting a lot of camera focus on the main characters (at some points this gets rather annoying, as if they’re distracting you from the lacking animation of the scenery). It works out well enough in the end though, and it further accentuates the importance of some of the figures.
Probably the most significant thing in this entire movie is the music. Kudos all around to the music team and to Chris Bacon on the fantastic job of this soundtrack. The normal symphonic score on its own is quite stupendous, but something that makes this film unique and far and above other films like it is the incorporation of ‘howl/singing’ into the movie. I even purchased the soundtrack on iTunes for the film just to have the 3 or 4 tracks that incorporated those singing parts.
The first howling sequence of the movie is a little showy and off-putting (what with being rather modernistic and dance-breaky) but the rest of the film is made on the talent of the singers and the way they portray the emotions of the characters as the story is told. There were parts where I could feel myself taken away from the theater seat and brought to the very moment in time where two wolves fall in love or one wolf mourns the death of another.
If there is anything to say about this convention of the movie, it is that the music is one of the most unique and personable accomplishment with this film that I’ve seen in a long time. It transforms the peculiar and sometimes random ‘song and dance’ routine of current and old Disney-esque films alike, and applies a real-world functional purpose to it—the howling music of the wolves. If all else has failed in this movie, these gut-wrenching melodies will be its saving grace.
Finally we come to the theme. Ah yes, the heart of the film. Alpha and Omega takes a few notes from the likes of Balto and Romeo and Juliet to convince the audience that no matter society’s taboos and regulations, you should never let old traditions get in the way of love (and to a larger extent, anything else for that matter). Truly a contemporary attitude towards one of William Shakespeare’s greatest works, the movie is sure to deliver that soulful message of unabashed true love and perseverance through all obstacles.
Though this movie will mean different things to different people, the harsh criticism given to this film by a large amount of reviewers seems to be rather unfounded and mysterious. Perhaps we are becoming more desensitized to modern animation and are thirsting by and large for more extravagant and explosive visions on the big screen. It is this author’s opinion that Alpha and Omega is a welcome return to the old romantic animations of the 20th Century.
Though this film lacks action and dips into rather cliché comedy at times, the complex conflict schemes emerging from the rarely used man vs. society convention as well as the intertwined romantic nuances and breathtaking melodies of the music score make this a film you won’t want to miss.
A great musical score with clever howling sequences, solid voice acting and an enjoyable story make for a well done animated film.