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 The animation seemed way out of date with the more recent efforts from Dreamworks and Pixar.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: Speed Racer The Next Generation: Comet Run the Movie

Hi again…

Yes race fans, Speed Racer is back! Well, sort of anyway. The Speed Racer The Next Generation series started on the Nicktoons Network back in 2008 and has consistently done well with young viewers. Despite the poor ratings of the 2008 movie Speed Racer with Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and the Wachowski brothers, the premiere of Speed Racer The Next Generation that aired a week before the film on Nicktoons opened at number one.

Next Generation is set in a time after the events of the original Speed Racer series (which aired in 1967). Speed Racer has disappeared, but is alive, and the Racing Academy is still teaching the next generation how to race. Speed’s son X Racer is at the top of the class until an orphan named after his father appears. And when it’s discovered that the new Speed’s skills rival his own, people began to take notice.

[rating:1/4]

In the first Next Generation movie, aptly called The Beginning, the young Speed Jr. learns that he truly is the son of the legend and he begins the journey to make his long-absent father proud.

Speed Jr. is helped out by a few friends, including Conor, the team mechanic; Lucy, the team navigator; and ChimChim, a robot monkey who seems to work as both a mascot and an assistant to Conor. In Comet Run, they work together on the Mach 6 to finish a gas-less engine to revolutionize the auto industry and make racing more eco-friendly.

The new movie builds on the series and the first two movies- The Beginning and Fast Track. In Comet Run, Trillionaire Dickie Radford, a short British auto-maker with a penchant for outlandish claims (seemingly based on Richard Branson, the trillionaire leader of the Virgin empire), has revealed a revolutionary Eco-Car. Radford claims the Eco-Car will run 100s of miles on a gallon of gas. Radford is so confident in his new car that he sponsors a race. If he loses, he’ll sign his company over to the winner and walk away.

Needless to say, as with all races in the Speed Racer universe, the bad guys don’t play fair. Radford cheats. Billionaire Zile Zazic, oil baron and race fanatic, joins the race to win so he can controle Radford’s company. Zazic drives his huge new SUV and uses it to run his competition off the road. And Speed Jr., X Racer, and Zazic’s daughter Annalise race to see if they can win the prize themselves.

Is this a great series? I’m afraid not. It suffers from many of the same issues other series reboots have had, including a disconnect between the 2D animation for the non-race portions of the show and the 3D, computer-generated animation for the race bits. And though it tries to honor the spirit of the original series of the ’60s, it’s become very watered down to meet the needs of a younger audience.

That said, my daughters (ages 4 and 8) liked the movie. They were on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Speed Jr. and his friends would somehow beat the cheating and conniving Radford and Zazic.

The movie itself only lasts 66 minutes and the DVD contains no extras beyond a number of previews for other Lionsgate series. The box that contains the DVD does however include a plastic collectible Mach 6 car, which I can see burning rubber in my house for some time to come.

If you’re looking for something to entertain a youngster for a a little over an hour, Comet Run might be a good choice. But if you’re looking to recapture the magic of the original series, Next Generation doesn’t quite do it.

Speed Racer The Next Generation: Comet Run the Movie arrives on DVD on May 12, 2009. To find more information about the series, go to the Speed Racer website from Lionsgate, watch the series on Nicktoons, or look for the series on DVD at your local video store.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the Speed Racer The Next Generation Movies at your local retailer or online:

p.p.s. Or for a blast from the past, pick up the original Speed Racer series collection:

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Movie Review: Black Snake Moan

Hi all…

Black Snake Moan has been on my Netflix queue for quite a while and I finally had a chance to see it over the weekend. I’ll sum it up like this: Amazing soundtrack. Great characters. A messed up world of drinking, drugs, cigarettes, sex, and the blues.

Black Snake Moan (film)

Image via Wikipedia

It used to be wine, women, and song… Now it’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. In this case, it’s more blues than rock-n-roll, but it’s close enough I guess.

[rating:2.5/4]

By far the weakest part of this movie is Justin Timberlake. There’s a scene when he beats a friend of his for sleeping with his girl, and it was very poorly staged.

But the strongest part is Sam Jackson. Who the heck knew he could play anything other than the kick-arse roles he’s played in the past in such movies as Pulp Fiction? And if he wasn’t the one playing the licks on the electric and accoustic guitars in those scenes, he did a fine job faking it.

Ultimately the story is one of the relationships among a group of people.

Jackson plays a blues singer who operates a small farm and sells the produce in town. His wife just left him for his brother. And he’s a bit angry about that.

Ricci plays a woman who was abused as a child and uses a sex addiction to try and fill the holes in her life. Her boyfriend (Timberlake) heads off to join the National Guard and she goes into a tailspin, eventually ending up beaten and sick on the side of the road near Jackson’s house.

The rest of the movie is one of redemption and finding a way to survive. Jackson helps Ricci because he doesn’t want to be alone to think about the fact that his wife is gone. Ricci needs structure in her life and to be handled with a certain amount of respect to get her over the sex addiction and on a road to recovery.

Ultimately, both Jackson and Ricci’s characters find a way, even though it might not be ideal in Ricci’s case. But each has a path they can live with.

I was impressed by Sam Jackson in this movie. His character was much deeper than many of the characters I have ever seen him play. If it was actually Jackson playing the guitar, he’s pretty good. 🙂 As such, if you’re a Sam Jackson fan (and don’t mind foul language, nudity, and adult situations), I would recommend this film.

I give it 2.5 out of 4. I’d give it 3 out of 4, but Timberlake’s performance was horrible IMHO. He should stick to making music that I don’t listen to on the radio. Definitely not a movie for the kiddies though.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick this one up at Amazon. I know I’ll be picking up the soundtrack soon!

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