Sometime over the last 15 years an animated-blockbuster formula was carved onto stone tablets by Disney. Take an odd coupling of bumbling animals, one large and fussy, the other small and volatile. Send them out on an adventure together with little but the charm of their celebrity voices to protect them, pit them against an antagonist of frothing hostility, and stand back as bumper-sticker lessons about friendship and loyalty crowd the screen.
Open Season follows this formula to the letter. A domesticated grizzly bear (Martin Lawrence) and mule-deer sidekick (Ashton Kutcher) try to find their way back home after being deposited deep in the woods, fighting off a delusional hunter and becoming best friends as they go. The movie is long on manic energy and bathroom humor but short on real storytelling, emotion or characters.
I realize we're talking about a children's movie here, and the horde of 5-year-olds at the screening I went to seemed to like Open Season just fine. But even kids deserve movies that strive to be inventive and surprising rather than just lazy, clichéd, prepackaged nonsense. They're our future, after all. I worry about a generation of kids who grow up watching movies that mistake clamor for originality, irony for imagination, and pop-culture references for storytelling. I worry about a generation of kids who think Ashton Kutcher is funny.
The directors of Open Season had hands in creating classics like The Lion King, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story, and they do an admirable job of making their movie sparkle with CGI glitter. But Open Season remains little more than paint-by-numbers filmmaking, and it fails in the most important charge of any children's movie: to transport its impressionable audience to a world where anything is possible, rather than to one where everything's been thought of already.