Alpha and Omega

What it's about:

Two young wolves Humphrey and Kate (voiced by Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere), who are at opposite ends of their pack's social order, are captured by park rangers and relocated to another national park across the US-Canada border. As they attempt to make their way back home, they grow closer.

What we thought:

Of every kind of creature that gets to have its day in a big budget animated movie these days, wolves should really be last on the list of priorities. I'm not sure what it is about them, but they just don’t make for compelling stories or particularly interesting physical portraits. I feel superficial just saying this, but the wolves in Alpha and Omega don’t look very attractive at all, and that's major failure number one for this well-intentioned but frustratingly dull family film.

In a year that has produced two of the best animated films of all time – How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3 Alpha and Omega really has no business peddling its mediocrity around like this. Sure, it's been built from a comparatively tiny budget, and independent production house Lionsgate is hardly renowned for their family-friendly output (American Psycho, Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Saw movies are some of their greatest successes) so venturing into territory dominated by Dreamworks and Pixar is either really brave, or what moths do when they're near a flame.

As a film targeted at a young audience, the movie is rather difficult to get one's head around. Kate is an Alpha wolf and is considered of a higher social rank than Humphrey, who is an Omega – a state of affairs that's not explained very clearly. To keep her pack strong, Kate has been promised to another Alpha wolf, Garth, a supposedly handsome and suave specimen. Meanwhile Humphrey has a secret crush on Kate, but can't act on it because their packs are not meant to fraternise. It's a decent enough representation of real-world issues of tolerance and ubuntu, especially for kids who are still developing ideas about the world around them (not that it ever stops in adulthood). But unlike some adults, kids react to visual stimuli first and foremost, and on that front, Alpha and Omega scores very poorly.

There is little in the way of telling the wolves apart from each other, let alone the Alphas from the Omegas, and if there's a large group present in one scene, well, I'm afraid you're pooched.  Each wolf has been given some variation of a ridiculous 80s mullet as their distinguishing feature, and once that realisation has set in, it's nigh on impossible to take these creations seriously.

In fact, this is a movie which doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Kate and Humphrey's perilous journey back home is reduced to a series of silly slapsticky incidents that relish a bit too much in naughty humour that's concentrated almost solely beneath the belt. It's like the kiddie equivalent of an Adam Sandler flick – tacky, tactless and good for a few chuckles only. Nevertheless, the little ones will be howling with laughter as Humphrey's sensitive bits smash into yet another obstacle.

Speaking of, the movie gets around the otherwise frightful prospect of a real wolf howl ("What if they give the children nightmares?" is probably the filmmakers' excuse) by having the wolves serenade the moon – and each other – with a very gentle, melodic croon. I'm not convinced that this is a device that really works. I kept expecting them to burst out in song at some point, step onto Disney's territory perhaps; it certainly would have made for a more entertaining movie.

As it turns out, there is very little beneath the surface of Alpha and Omega. With unimaginative animation and even less thought put into the story, it's not going to make a very lasting impression on its intended audience. They deserve, and have seen, so much better.
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