Not without charm and bearing easy appeal to very young viewers, Lionsgate’s 3D animated pic “Alpha and Omega” is agreeably unambitious. An odd-couple romance/road movie featuring two wolves stranded in Idaho, the film lags when it ventures beyond breezy repartee and pratfalls, and the animation quality is certainly below the bar set by 3D-based competitors, though its target demo is unlikely to mind. Returns should be modest upon Sept. 17 release, though DVD traffic ought to prove more robust.
A slick opening scene establishes the setting in a small wolf colony in Canada, divided socially between the disciplined, hard-working Alpha wolves and the slacker layabout Omegas. Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) is one of the latter, and spends his days bobsledding down hills in hollowed-out logs with his chucklehead buddies, while his unrequited love, Alpha wolf Kate (Hayden Panettiere), tries to maintain her dignity. (One presumes the Bogart-Hepburn reference is intentional.)
Disputes over elk-hunting boundaries arise between pack leader Winston (Danny Glover, in full authoritarian mode) and rival pack kingpin Tony (Dennis Hopper, in one of his last completed roles), leading to the good-faith betrothal of Kate to Garth (Chris Carmack), Tony’s preening, jockish son. Humphrey manages to separate the two on their first date, and soon after, he and Kate are both hit mid-argument by an unseen forest ranger’s tranquilizer darts.
Captured by humans, both wolves are transported to Idaho as part of a wolf-relocation project. (Humphrey’s eagerness to “repopulate” the area with Kate becomes a running joke throughout; though these gags should all sail safely above the heads of the pic’s target demo, they feel unnecessary all the same, and surely meant the difference between a G and PG rating.) Attempts by the two to return home before interpack antagonism boils over comprise the rest of the film, with all the train-jumping and bear-fighting such a journey entails.
Pic is blessedly free of ostentatious pop-culture references, though it derives some decent mileage out of a golfing French-Canadian goose (Larry Miller) and his toadying British caddie (Eric Price).
Periodic wordless musical interludes feel awkwardly wedged in, and the already mild action scenes are robbed of much kinetic energy by indifferent editing.
Arboreal backgrounds are bright and variegated. So too, unfortunately, are the character models: Detail on the wolves seesaws between photorealistic renderings (with particularly lifelike fur) to cartoon-like sketches, and astute viewers will notice several cut corners. Nor has much apparent effort been expended into making the characters particularly lupine — of course, excessive anthropomorphism has never exactly been a deal breaker in animation, but at times Humphrey and Kate appear distractingly human in their movements.
Pic’s 3D quality is solid yet undistinguished.