With some sequels you can just jump right in and have a pretty good sense of what's going on. But "Open Season 2" picks up right where the original left off. If you don't know what happened in "Open Season," you're going to feel a little lost. Come to think of it, you're going to feel a little lost even if you do recall what happened previously, because logic isn't exactly this direct-to-video movie's strong suit.
In "Open Season" a big o' bear named Boog (Martin Lawrence), who was raised by a ranger (Debra Messing) since he was a cub, meets a wacky, overcaffeinated deer named Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) who challenges his whole sense of self. There was a little depth to it, in other words. Elliot accuses Boog of being nothing more than a pampered pet and encourages him to return to the wild where he belongs, but when Elliot gets his "buddy" in trouble and they're both airlifted deep into the mountains, Boog has to learn to readjust. It takes an outside force--hunters--to make him learn his place in the world and fit in. Boog leads a Spartacus-style critter revolt and, though the ranger wants him back, decides to stay in the wild with his new "family." It was far-fetched, but hey, it was animation, and besides, it kind of made sense.
Not so with "Open Season 2," whose tagline ("This time it's pets against wilds. Wiener takes all!") tells the whole incredulous story. "Open Season" was a mildly entertaining film for the whole family that had some substance to it, but the sequel is a superficial competition that only scrapes the surface and doesn't naturally integrate the characters as well as the first film. Everything seems strained, and so "Open Season 2" will most likely not appeal to adults. Kids, though, are another story. The goofy characters are back, and the emphasis is on visual gags and fast-talking goofiness.
What happens is this: Elliot is about to marry his "Open Season" heartthrob, Giselle (Jane Krakowski, "30 Rock"), but gets cold feet and leaves her at the woodsy altar. Meanwhile, their Dachshund friend, Mr. Weenie (Cody Cameron), who, like Boog, left his owner to be with the "wilds," is dognapped by--get this--a bunch of pampered pets whose ideology (pets are happier) has turned them into furry little zealots led by a French poodle named Fifi (Crispin Glover). Minor characters become major this outing, and you quickly find yourself wishing for a little of the warmth and complexity that the first film offered. The more inane the plot gets, the more you keep crossing your fingers that the ranger will show up and end this silliness. In the first film it was wildlife against hunters, and now it's wildlife against pets. Next it will be wildlife against pet owners--no, wait, that was already done in "Over the Hedge."
As it is, this plot is stupid enough. You'd think Mr. Weenie was involved in a custody battle the way the wildlife and pampered pets fight over him, wanting to "deprogram" him. I wish I could tell you that there was some deeper message here about religious cults, but it's just dumb plotting. We're supposed to believe that in the middle of the forest there's this theme park (Pet Paradisio) that's only for pampered pets? And this park has all kinds of armed men whose sole purpose seems to be to keep wild animals out? Goldfinger didn't run up against this kind of opposition at Fort Knox! And yet a couple of ducks can fly over, a porcupine can be launched over the fence, and before long the whole crew is dressing up in "pet" disguises and infiltrating the place.
Even the kids are apt to shake their heads in disbelief a few times, but it's still far better than Saturday morning and after-school fare. With "Open Season 2" being rated PG (for mild rude humor) at a time when there are so few PG movies being made, a lot of parents will think that's enough to praise and just pop this in their players and let the kids be the judge. If they're like mine, they'll like it in spite of its considerable flaws--none of which, by the way, include the acting or the animation. The voice talents have fun with this and do a good job of matching voices to animals, while the animation itself--if you can get past the strange angularity of the deer and such--is pretty accomplished. The main weakness is the concept, which is made painfully clear by a contrived plot and muddled scenic construction. I can't fault director Matthew O'Callaghan ("Curious George," "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas") or his co-director, Todd Wilderman (the lead CG character animator for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in his first director's outing), because the pacing and the way the characters play out this little comedy seem as good as can be, given the limitations of script. Where so many films make you think they could have done more with the concept, this one makes you marvel at what the directors were able to accomplish with what they had to work with.
I wasn't sent the Blu-ray so I can't compare formats, but the colors on this DVD are strong and the edges of objects and figures are pretty sharp. "Open Season 2" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it looks as good as other animated DVD releases from Sony.
The audio options are English, French, or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with English, French and Spanish subtitles. It's actually a pretty rollicking soundtrack, with throat-clearing vitality and a rich timbre no matter what the range. "Open Season 2" is closed captioned for the hearing impaired.
I said that this film was for kids only, and that's the way the extras play out. "Going Wild!" shows the voice talents at work and talking about the characters, and kids love seeing the face behind the cartoon bod. Would-be animators get a lesson from one of the artists on how to draw Boog, Elliot, and Fifi, and the pacing is perfect for young viewers, who are instructed to pause the video to go get paper and pencil, even! Then there are FIVE arcade games, none of which are terribly complicated or challenging, which leads me to believe that Sony's admitted target audience for this film are children ages 6-12. "Elliot's Go Fetch!" is a game that feels like the old "Pong," where you move a dog to catch a Frisbee that caroms slowly. "Track That Treat" is a video variation of the old carnival shell game, "Fix That 'Do" gives you the chance to do a doggie make-over for your favorite character, "Doggie Strength Test" has you press a button to ring the bell on a carnival sledgehammer test of strength (that's literally so easy you can do it with your eyes closed), and "Boog's Waterslide Maze Craze" asks you to navigate a waterslide. All the games are pretty simplistic, so Blu-ray fans might want to go that route because there's a Frogger-style game that's exclusive to HD. Rounding out the bonus features on this DVD are three deleted scenes.
Kids will like it, but adults will wonder, to steal a line from an old TV commercial, "Where's the beef?" "Open Season 2" has far less substance than its predecessor and half the heart.