[Screen It]

(2010) (voices of Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere) (PG)

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Animated Adventure: Two wolves who are direct opposites fall in love after being captured by trappers and forced to go on a long journey back to their forest.
In a Canadian national park, two rival wolf packs seek common ground when their leaders, Winston (voice of DANNY GLOVER) and Tony (voice of DENNIS HOPPER), arrange a marriage between their first-born children. Winston's daughter, Kate (voice of HAYDEN PANETTIERE), is a hunter-gatherer "alpha wolf." Tony's son, Garth (voice of CHRIS CARMACK), is also an "alpha wolf" who secretly has a problem "finding his howl."

Alphas are forbidden to marry "omega wolfs," who are kind of the artist-entertainer types of the wolf pack. This is a problem when Kate develops feelings for the fun-loving Humphrey (voice of JUSTIN LONG) and Garth falls in love with Kate's omega-wolf sister, Lilly (voice of CHRISTINA RICCI). Kate and Humphrey are then thrust together when both are tranquilized by trappers and transported to a wildlife preserve in Idaho. This gives Garth and Lilly time to get to know each other.

Meanwhile, Tony plans to take over both packs by force when he thinks that Kate has ran off and shirked her responsibilities. Kate's mom, Eve (voice of VICKI LEWIS), spurs her husband on to prepare for war. Meanwhile, two golf-loving birds, Marcel (voice of LARRY MILLER) and Paddy (voice of ERIC PRICE), agree to help Humphrey and Kate make the long journey back to their forest.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
The new 3-D "Alpha and Omega" is notable for two reasons. One, it's a movie about wolves that is the result of a first-ever collaboration between animation houses in Burbank, Calif., and India. So, there's a "Slumdog Millionaire" joke in there somewhere. I just can't find it. Two, this marks the final performance - albeit a vocal one - from the late, great Dennis Hopper. Too bad it's in such a bland, disposable film that will likely entertain only the youngest ones in the audience.

The best thing I can write about "Alpha and Omega" is that the tale is simple enough that children ages 5, 6, and maybe even a touch younger can follow it. It's been a couple of months since the last major animated release, "Despicable Me," was new on screens. So, if you have little ones eager for a big-screen fix and a film that is only sporadically questionable in terms of taste and content, parents could do worse. But, of course, we live in the age of Pixar. And paying extra 3-D prices to see a flick that doesn't deliver on that investment in terms of entertainment value only leaves grownups bitter and the young 'uns simply shrugging and eager for the next CG-animated fix.

Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere star as wolves Humphrey and Kate, respectively. Both live in a preserved national park in Canada with their pack, headed by Kate's father Winston (voice of Danny Glover). The two are clearly attracted to one another, but they have a problem. Humphrey is one of the "omega wolves," who are basically the entertainers/artists of the pack. Kate is an "alpha wolf," the hunter/gatherer type who brings back the food and keeps the pack safe.

A rival wolf pack headed by Tony (voice of Hopper) threatens to invade the Winston pack's land and feast on their caribou. Winston seeks peace between the packs for the greater good and promises Kate's paw in marriage to Tony's oldest son, Garth (voice of Chris Carmack). Tony agrees to a temporary peace, but that peace is shattered when Kate disappears and Garth starts hanging out with her sister, the omega wolf Lilly (voice of Christina Ricci).

In reality, Kate and Humphrey have been tranquilized and caged by trappers. When they wake up, they are in a new forest in faraway Idaho and are expected to breed little wolfies (something Humphrey is all for). Kate, though, knows she has to get back home and enlists a pair of golf-loving birds (voices of Larry Miller and Eric Price) to help.

"Alpha and Omega" is not a bad film. It just lacks a truly adventurous spirit. It never soars. It doesn't work in any sly social commentary as similarly themed films like "Over the Hedge" and even "Open Season" did. There is very little for adults, except for the somewhat sad thrill of hearing Hopper's crazy cadence again. Even the animation feels unimaginative. There are no less than three sequences in the film where problems are solved by the characters getting into a tree trunk and sledding down a steep slope to evade danger. At the same time, there are also two caribou stampedes that bookend the film. So much more could have been done with the nature setting.

The voices are just OK. Long and Panettiere are just as bland behind the microphone as they are in front of the camera most of the time. Hopper and Glover have the most fun as old wolves making way for a new generation. And, thankfully, the film doesn't try to shoehorn in some awkward "preserve nature" message. But song-and-dance sequences where the various wolves howl at the moon (but really sound like bad boy-band crooning) are enough to make one jab popcorn kernels in one's ear.

There is some charm here. But it's one of those flicks where in a week or so, you'll be struggling to remember the title or any of the characters in it. As such, it rates no higher than a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed September 12, 2010 / Posted September 17, 2010

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