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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 3-D animated animal adventure (which stars the voices of popular actors Hayden Panettiere and Justin Long) includes many allusions to romance and even some sexually tinged double entendres ("was it good for you?" after howling, etc.) -- which younger kids won't understand, but tweens and teens probably will. While there's not much in the way of language, the movie does feature a few violent scenes in which snarling wolves are about to attack each other and one sequence in which the main wolves have to run away from angry bears chasing them (all of which iis made more intense by the 3-D). On the plus side, there's a girl empowerment theme and a positive message about marrying for love rather than duty, but families sensitive to innuendo may be put off by all the grown-up references.
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What's the story?
In Canada's Jasper National Park, Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) is an omega wolf who's friends with Kate (Hayden Panettiere), an alpha she-wolf who's the daughter of pack leader Winston (Danny Glover). It's made very clear that while Humphrey can be casual friends with Kate, as an alpha, she's expected to consort and eventually mate with an alpha male. When the pack's relationship with a neighboring pack becomes strained over lack of access to caribou, the opposing pack's leader, Tony (the late Dennis Hopper), proposes that his alpha son, Garth (Chris Carmack), "marry" Kate to unite the two packs. But after meeting Garth -- who can't howl properly -- Kate skips out on their "date," only to end up chatting with Humphrey as they're both captured by American wildlife officials and transported to Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho to "repopulate" in the woods. Fearing her pack's ruin if she doesn't show up to marry Garth, Kate asks for help to return home -- which comes in the form of Marcel (Larry Miller), a French-Canadian goose, and his fussy duck friend Paddy (Eric Price). And as they journey back to the pack, Kate and Humphrey's relationship deepens...
Is it any good?
This is an animated teen romance masquerading as a kiddie flick; even if your preschooler won't pick up on all the suggestiveness, you will. Animal adventures are responsible for some of the most treasured children's films, from Bambi to Finding Nemo, so it's no surprise that kids' movies starring talking wildlife keep getting made. The problem with ALPHA AND OMEGA is that it relies too heavily on the animals making jokes and references to -- for lack of a more delicate way to put it -- sexuality. There's definitely a place in the family genre for romance (Shrek, The Princess Bride, even the Toy Story series), but the filmmakers lay it on so thick here that it actually bogs down, rather than sweetly enhances, the story.
Yes, it's important for kids to realize that social status and popularity aren't as important as character and conviction when it comes to falling in love. But all of the little "Was it good for you?" and "limp howl" jokes will start to grate on the grown-ups in the audience. Fourth graders and younger may not register the double meaning, but they'll still hear wolves calling a she-wolf "hot" instead of praising her for her hunting skills. The voice cast does their best with the material, and it's bittersweet to hear the great Hopper in his final role (the movie is dedicated to his memory). But, ultimately, even the "adventure" part of this movie isn't all that exciting. The obstacles (a cupcake, bears) aren't compelling enough to make you wonder whether Kate and Humphrey will make it home. Instead, the movie focuses on the relationship obstacles (although that outcome isn't too hard to guess, either).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's overall message about relationships and social status. What does the movie have to say about falling in love?
What does it ultmately take to unite the packs? Why do the packs have to work together to survive? What does this teach us about wolf culture?
The movie includes references to romantic relationships and some grown-up jokes. Is it OK to insert grown-up themes in a kids' movie (even if really young kids can't understand them)?
- In theaters: September 17, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: January 11, 2011
- Cast: Christina Ricci, Dennis Hopper, Hayden Panettiere, Justin Long
- Directors: Anthony Bell, Ben Gluck
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor and some mild action
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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