Alpha and Omega is a cute, harmless, disposable animated film, something the kids may enjoy during its ninety-minute run but then forget about as soon as they get home. I appreciated it from a technical standpoint – the animation is decent, the color scheme is vivid, the vocal performances are competent – but I didn’t get all that much out of the story or the characterizations, both of which are a little too innocuous for my taste. Not to sound presumptuous, but I suspect I speak for the majority of adult audiences, who will no doubt dutifully take their children to see it. In all fairness, far worse children’s films have been made (I’m talking to you, the people behind Furry Vengeance and Standing Ovation). It’s not so much that Alpha and Omega is bad; it’s just that it’s awfully by-the-numbers.
It tells the story Kate (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) and Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long), two wolves living in Canada’s Jasper National Park. Even though they’re from the same pack and like each other, they’re separated by social status; Kate is an alpha – a hunter, a leader, well trained, committed to responsibility – whereas Humphrey is an omega – goofy, playful, responsible for nothing apart from breaking up the occasional fight. According to the laws, dictated by Kate’s father (voiced by Danny Glover), alphas and omegas can be friends, but they can never be mates. She can only be with another alpha. Low and behold, such a wolf is Garth (Chris Carmack), the son of Tony (voiced by the late Dennis Hopper), the leader of a rival pack. To prevent the two packs from going to war, it’s decreed that Garth and Kate will marry.
Matters are complicated when Kate and Humphrey are tranquilized by rangers and sent to an Idaho wildlife preserve, apparently in an attempt to repopulate the area with wolves. They soon cross paths with a golf enthusiast and his caddy, the former a French-Canadian goose (voiced by Larry Miller), the latter a British duck (voiced by Eric Price); with their help, Kate and Humphrey escape the preserve and begin the journey home. It’s a surprisingly uneventful trip. There are only two real exciting moments. One occurs during a rainstorm, when Humphrey has to save Kate from falling into a canyon by swinging in on a vine. The other is when Humphrey and Kate escape from angry bears by sliding down a mountain in a halved and hollowed log. Everything else that happens to them is barely worth mentioning. Mostly, they just dance around the issue of being in love with one another.
As far as the basic plot is concerned, that’s pretty much all there is to say. All we have left are the personality quirks of the side characters, who, in the tradition of even the best animated films, thoroughly upstage anything done by the leads. Garth, for example, is the canine equivalent of a mimbo – a fitness buff and ladies man who couldn’t howl properly even if his life depended on it. (Not that anyone really howls in this movie; if anything, they harmonize, as if performing the backup sections of a love ballad at a karaoke bar.) And then there’s Kate’s mother, Eve (voiced by Vicki Lewis), whose pleasant, wholesome voice belies a shocking tendency to threaten others with throat ripping and eye gouging. Kate’s sister, Lilly (voiced by Christina Ricci), is a soft-spoken omega who has a thing for Garth, in spite of the laws forbidding it.
I suppose I should mention that the film is presented in 3D, although in this day and age, it’s becoming less and less necessary to point that out. Regardless, the filmmakers did everything they could to take advantage of the process. Rocks that act as golf balls zoom directly at the camera. So do lunging wolves and splashes of water. It seemed most prominent during the film’s first twenty minutes, at which point I kept noticing a juvenile fixation on rear ends. Perhaps directors Ben Gluck and Anthony Bell are the kind of guys that think butts are inherently funny. Or maybe they understood that many children, their sense of humor still in development, are easily amused by that particular part of the body. Whatever the case, I was glad when they finally eased up on the references. Personally, I think faces are a lot funnier. Yes, even in 3D.
If there is, in fact, a theme or message, it rests solely on the idea of Opposites Attract. Even then, there isn’t all that much to go on, mostly because it isn’t explored in any meaningful way. The best we’re given, apart from the obvious inclusion of the alphas and omegas, is the pairing of a big, burly motorcycle enthusiast and a petite, matronly librarian; they drive a trailer and listen to heavy metal while wearing novelty sunglasses. I grant you it makes for a few amusing visuals, but that’s about it. The bottom line: Alpha and Omega is an adequate way to keep the kids out of the house for a little while, but I seriously doubt it will be remembered ten years down the line. It follows a formula and follows it well, and while that may not be much of a compliment, it’s the best I can do.