DVD Review: Alpha and Omega

Hi all…

Through the summer of 2010, I saw many trailers for a new animated film about an unlikely pair of wolves in Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada). Alpha and Omega looked like it could be fun, but that it was probably a renter. And it’s now coming out on DVD and Blu-ray today, January 11, 2011.

Alphas are the hunters and protectors for the pack and Omegas are about lightening the mood and keeping the pack from squabbling too much. Typically Alphas pair with Alphas and Omegas with Omegas to keep those traits strong in their offspring. Though Kate, an Alpha, and Humphrey, an Omega, might be friends, they can’t be more than that in the eyes of their elders.

When a squabble between two packs heats up over hunting territory, the pack leaders Tony and Winston revert to an ancient pact that would have their eldest children pair up and combine the packs into a bigger pack. Kate is to pair up with Garth and that’s that.

Well, of course things go wrong when Kate and Humphrey get shot with tranquilizer darts and relocated to a different park in Idaho miles and miles away and they have to get back to seal the deal between the packs to avoid a war. The Alpha and Omega bond on the road trip back home, learning that they make a pretty good team when they work together. Along the way, they meet a golfing goose and duck duo who help them navigate their way home through all the obstacles.

Ultimately the film is about finding new ways to work together to overcome whatever problems may come your way. And that you can have a little fun along the way.

The film stars the voices of Justin Long (Going the Distance, Drag Me to Hell, Alvin and the Chipmunks), Hayden Panettiere (TV’s Heroes, I Love You, Beth Cooper), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Dreamgirls), Christina Ricci (Speed Racer, Cursed), and Dennis Hopper in one of his final roles before he passed away in May 2010 (TV’s Crash, Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider).

I think even when I saw the trailers six to nine months ago, I felt that it wasn’t going to be a great film. The animation seemed way out of date with the more recent efforts from Dreamworks and Pixar. And the story could have been generated by a computer algorithm. It did very poorly at the box office according to Box Office Mojo earning only $25 million domestically and $39 million worldwide. In a summer with other animated movies like Shrek Forever After (nearly $750 million worldwide), Despicable Me (nearly $550 million worldwide), and Toy Story 3 (over $1 billion worldwide) drawing thousands of moviegoers, Alpha and Omega didn’t draw many so it will be interesting to see how this title does on DVD.

In addition to the movie itself, there are numerous bonus features on the DVD, including a “Log Sliding” game, an Animal Facts trivia game, a personality test to see if you’re an Alpha or Omega, plus a deleted scene, and a few features. We really liked the “Making of Alpha and Omega” and “Wolves in the Wild” features.

It was great to hear how the directors and artists did their research about how gray wolves actually behave in the wild. The “Wolves in the Wild” feature provides a good overview of wolves from biologists and folks from the California Wolf Center who help the public gain a bit more knowledge of these beautiful animals. I think it may be a bit over the head for some kids, but would definitely recommend watching it with your children to learn a bit.

And the “Making of Alpha and Omega” feature is actually broken into three separate parts – “The Alpha of Animation,” “Voicing the Wolves,” and “From Alpha to Omega.” Each provides a glimpse into the work that goes into a full length animated features behind the scenes. It’s always amazing to me to see how the artists go from 2D sketches to how they appear in the final movie. I have a lot of respect for the process even if I didn’t like how stylized the characters became on screen. The voiceover actors also have a lot more input into how those characters come to life. It was obvious they had a good time working with the characters and directors.

Though I liked Alpha and Omega (and my kids loved it), I didn’t love it. It’s a fun, if somewhat forgettable flick that’s very family friendly with a lackluster plot. Honestly, I’d recommend it as a renter and then to buy it if your kids really like it. Check it out when it’s released today!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick this up at Barnes & Noble below along with other films:

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DVD Review: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

Hi all…

When the holidays roll around, I can’t help but think about the many great Charlie Brown television specials that appear throughout the year. Of course you have It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown at Halloween, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas at Christmastime, but you also have Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, with many others. The jazzy piano music of Vince Guaraldi provides much of the soundtrack in my mind to this very day.

Based on the Peanuts comic strip of creator Charles M. Schultz, which began appearing in newspapers by 1950 and ended in 2000, each of the animated specials has offered a slice of the world Charlie Brown and Snoopy inhabit. And I know I for one will happily revisit that world just about any day of the week. Even so, I know I haven’t seen all of the Charlie Brown/Peanuts television specials that have aired over the years. The usual suspects appear every year on TV, but there are many that appeared once and then seemingly disappeared into that space where forgotten cartoons go.

That’s why I’m very happy that Warner Brothers has been re-releasing many of the older animated Peanuts features that we haven’t seen before. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is one of the specials that falls into this category. I don’t remember ever seeing it on television, but am happy to share it with my two daughters who haven’t seen very many of these amazing cartoons.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales focuses on a series of Christmastime vignettes featuring a different Peanuts character. Snoopy, Linus, Sally, Lucy, and Charlie Brown are all featured. Snoopy struggles with trying to forge a Christmas peace with the ferocious cat next door and wants to ice skate with Lucy though she wants nothing to do with him. Linus works on his letter to Santa and tries to figure out the girl who sits behind him in class who is always changing her name. Sally writes a letter to “Samantha Claus” and embarrasses herself in class, Lucy tries to be nice, and Charlie Brown tries to prepare for the holiday.

Through each little story, you catch a glimpse into the minds of these characters. And though I prefer A Charlie Brown Christmas, I think Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales may be added to the long list of holiday specials to watch as Christmas grows near.

Also included on the DVD is “Is this Goodbye, Charlie Brown?” in which Linus and Lucy unexpectedly move away, forcing Charlie Brown, Sally, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang to deal with their loss. Though I liked this feature, I have to wonder why it would be included on a holiday-themed DVD.

But if you’re looking for another classic holiday special for your arsenal of DVDs, I’d definitely check out Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other animated classics below!

Trailer Time: Winnie the Pooh – July 2011

True innocence seems to be rare on the big screen when it comes to animated features these days. Sure, we’ve had our share of fun films like Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, but they’ve dealt with monsters and mayhem mostly. It’s rare to see a simple, pure of heart, innocent kid’s film hitting theaters.

So I was shocked and when I heard of a new film from Disney in the traditional 2D tradition… Winnie the Pooh, which will be released in July 2011. The first trailers were just released this week and I have to say I went a bit nostalgic when I watched.

With two girls, Winnie, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, and Christopher Robin have been frequent visitors over the last 10 years. I’ll be happy to see Winnie and the gang back up on the big screen again.

The story looks very cute, centered around finding a new tail for Eeyore. And it appears to have some trippy honey-induced fantasies in it from a particular bear we all know and love. So I for one will be going to see this one in the theater.

Here’s the trailer… What do you think?

–Fitz

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