In a year overrun with computer animated comedies in which famous stars play adorable animals, the time has come to start asking questions. How do these things get put together? Specifically, to use the case of Open Season, does someone get the notion to make a film about a domesticated grizzly bear forced to fend for himself after getting returned to the wild against his wishes, and then decide that only a wisecracking Martin Lawrence can give voice to that bear? Or does someone become fixated on using Martin Lawrence as the voice of a grizzly, then shape a film around it? Is there competition for these parts? Does Ashton Kutcher spend months deliberating whether to take the part of Hammy in Over The Hedge or Benny in The Wild before settling on Elliot the motor-mouthed deer in Open Season?
Another question: At any point, do the people involved realize they've got a lot of pretty animated images, no jokes, less story, and voice performances that never click together? Those problems abound in Open Season, the debut feature for Sony's in-house animation studio Sony Pictures Animation. Written and directed largely by refugees from Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar, it looks terrific, capturing moonlit wilderness and furry creatures with equal skill. Boog, the bear protagonist, is an especially winning, expressive creation. Then he opens his mouth and Martin Lawrence comes out, anchoring the whimsical creature in the dull rhythms of Lawrence's tired delivery. Sidekick Ashton Kutcher sounds anything but tired, but they don't balance each other out. It's good that Open Season is aimed squarely at poop-joke-loving viewers just out of the Baby Einstein phase, since they won't make anyone else forget Hope and Crosby. Or Chase and Aykroyd. Or even Kutcher and Seann William Scott.
Some final questions: Does it make less sense that all the squirrels are Scottish, or that Paul Westerberg provides the songs? It's a long, strange journey from "Bastards Of Young" to setting an animals-vs.-hunters fight scene to "The Right To Arm Bears," isn't it? The battle in question doesn't have substantial casualties, but no one makes it out of this laughless mess unscathed.