(by Dustin Putman
At a time when the bar for quality animated features has been set so high by Pixar's annual releases—and a handful of others, such as 2009's delightfully imaginative "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," aren't far behind—there is really no excuse for relentlessly lame, prosaic half-efforts like Lionsgate's "Alpha and Omega." Grindingly ordinary and bland right down to its comparatively undefined, cheap-looking computer animation (the theatrical 3-D version, for what it's worth, is even less impressive, dulling what could have at least been attractively bright-colored), the film's only strong point is that it's appropriate for the youngest of viewers and mostly inoffensive. Audiences, however, would be best to steer clear and seek out something with a little more originality, charm, and substance. There are more than enough better children's movies to choose from. Article continues below
In Canada's idyllic Jasper National Park, the law of the pack is that dominant alpha wolves do not romantically mix with the more docile omegas. Nevertheless, it's a rule that does not phase omega Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long), whose heart has belonged to alpha Kate (Hayden Panettiere) ever since they were pups. Knowing that it is her duty to marry a fellow alpha—her father (Danny Glover) is in the midst of setting her up with the hunky but vacant Garth (Chris Carmack)—she has never allowed herself to get to know Humphrey for who he truly is. When the two of them are captured by human interlopers and relocated to Idaho in hopes of repopulating the area, Kate and Humphrey must team together to make their way back home. Along the way, Kate starts to see her devoted companion in a whole new light.
"Alpha and Omega" is light on pop-culture references and toilet humor (a few butt jokes are a small price to pay in the grand scheme of what could have been), but it doesn't have much to recommend it, either. Directors Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck go through the paces with minimal signs of inspiration while screenwriters Chris Denk and Steve Moore can't be bothered with bringing anything new to what is basically a road movie romance. The lot of them copycat off of the "Ice Age" series—no great shakes themselves—right down to the comic relief sidekicks (in this case, a golf-playing goose and his duck caddy) and intermittent music montages viewers can practically set their watches to. In a jaw-droppingly cornball development, the wolves' howls at the moon come in the form of adult contemporary caterwauling, and they do it over and over. "Happy Feet," it's not.
The cross-country journey back north that makes up the bulk of the running time is listless and uneventful beyond belief. Humphrey and Kate literally ride in the back of a truck for part of the way, escape from a bear attack, hop aboard a train, and—voila!—they've made it back to their families. Surely some added innovation could have been brought to the proceedings, but none arrives. As for the love story, there is never any question where things are headed. Once separated from their packs, Kate and Humphrey get along rather well, becoming friends and then something more as they bond over howling. It's all amazingly dull.
The voice work in "Alpha and Omega" isn't the problem—Justin Long (2010's "Going the Distance") and Hayden Panettiere (2009's "I Love You, Beth Cooper") are lively enough as protagonists Humphrey and Kate, while Christina Ricci (2008's "Speed Racer") manages to stand out as Kate's adorably dippy younger omega sister Lilly—but what surrounds it is. There are no big morals or lessons to learn, nothing particularly relatable or emotionally truthful for audiences to care about, and not a funny moment in sight. The script isn't nearly witty or smart enough for these things. Not out-and-out terrible as much as it is simply mediocre and forgettable, "Alpha and Omega" doesn't have what it takes to play with the competitive big boys of today's lucrative animated arena. It barely has what it takes to physically manifest itself at all.