Would you be startled to learn that Alpha and Omega is not about Jesus? No, you would not, because although the phrase “Alpha and Omega” is taken from the book of Revelation, most people today probably don’t know that, and movies about Jesus are pretty rare anyway. Alpha and Omega is a computer-animated movie about wolves, the title being a reference to the theory of social hierarchy in pack animals, with a dominant alpha animal (or alpha pair) at the top and subordinate omegas at the bottom. The theory is that omegas compensate for their lack of rank by playing class clown, earning the goodwill and even protection of the ranking animals. The theory also includes betas — and as long as we’re on the subject the whole alpha–omega dominance theory in regard to wolves seems to be commonly discounted today — but never mind.
Would you be startled to learn that Alpha and Omega is about a low-ranking male who falls for an elite female who is totally Out Of His League? No, you would not, because you have seen movies like How to Train Your Dragon, WALL-E, Monster House, Robots and so on. And while all of those movies have surprises, you wouldn’t be surprised by anything else that happens in Alpha and Omega either, because you have seen movies like Ice Age, The Fox and the Hound, Happy Feet, Open Season and so on.
Alpha and Omega is a movie almost totally bereft of surprises. Boy meets girl. Girl is totally out of boy’s league. Girl meets other boy who is not out of her league. But he can’t sing. But she has to marry him anyway to keep peace between their families. Girl and first boy are shot with tranquilizer darts and relocated to Idaho to repopulate. Girl and boy embark (bark! ha ha!) on road trip back home. Girl falls for boy on the way. Back home, other boy falls for other girl. Cue climactic action scene and close with musical number. The end.
Social rules decree that Kate (Hayden Panettiere), an elite female destined to be an alpha, and Humphrey (Justin Long), a young omega, are destined for separate paths in life. “It’s the law of the pack,” says Kate’s grizzled alpha father Winston (Danny Glover), which is another way of saying that by the end of the movie it will all be totally different.
For now, though, the rules keep them apart. “We can eat together,” an omega says, “but we can’t … you know. Pow. Together.” That euphemism for sex may be the closest thing to a surprise in the movie, which dances around the subject with other euphemisms. Winston, trying to explain the rules to the young Humphrey, ventures that he and Kate can’t “m…”, but can’t finish the word “mate.” He could have just said “marry,” since that word gets thrown a lot. In the end, when two wolves marry, someone declares them “mates.” (Maybe it’s okay as a noun, but not as a verb.) Oh, and then there’s “repopulate,” as in “We didn’t repopulate!”, which is what Humphrey gasps as Kate’s mom is about to rip out his throat.
There are a few double entrendres and rude jokes. (“Was it good for you?” a male asks a female after an embarrassingly inept display of howling at the moon. Probably the joke that annoyed me the most, though it won’t mean anything to kids, was someone asking if Humphrey and Kate were “undomesticated partners.”) Some mild toilet humor, butt jokes, crotch trauma gags. Even kids won’t be surprised by anything here.
Well, one mild surprise is the way Alpha and Omega passes on opportunities to juice the conflict, making the characters a little more decent than you might expect. Kate and Humphrey are childhood friends, so you don’t have the usual ice-maiden phenomenon in which the female considers the male beneath her notice. Kate’s father has arranged for her to marry a young upcoming alpha from a neighboring pack to unite the packs, but he doesn’t get all overbearing about it, and Kate doesn’t get all rebellious and upset at him, even when she overhears him claim that Kate knows about the arranged union, which she hadn’t. Toward the end, a moment comes when Humphrey must wake Kate in time for them to rejoin the pack, which presumably means losing her forever — or let her sleep, and potentially keep her for himself. In any other film he would at least hesitate, but here it doesn’t seem to occur to him.
In other potentially annoying things the movie doesn’t do, critic Peter Hartlaub points out that there’s no heavy-handed global warming message, and the humans, even the ones who tranquilize and relocate Kate and Humphrey, aren’t portrayed as bad guys. In fact, there really are no bad guys. It’s basically a nice movie about nice characters.
Making a nice movie about nice characters is possible, but you have to get conflict from somewhere. The absence of certain kinds of cliched conflicts might come as a slight relief, but it also contributes to the movie’s slackness. Alpha and Omega tries to generate conflict between the two packs, but there’s no meaningful conflict on the level of character, which is what makes a story work. A golf-playing French Canadian goose and his English caddy (Larry Miller and Eric Price) add little comic relief, and the filmmakers are so eager to work them in wherever possible that they seem like stalkers or guardian angels, following Kate and Humphrey all the way home.
The animation is cheap-looking (3D doesn’t help). The fringes of fur around the wolves’ heads clump together into feather-like fronds, and when the wolves stand up and dance they look more like prairie dogs than actual canines. Would you be startled to learn that Alpha and Omega was produced by Crest Animation Productions and Richard Rich? No, you would not, because you’re reasonably sure you’ve never heard of Crest Animation, unless they created the Cavity Creeps commercials, and you’re pretty sure that whoever Richard Rich is, he’s not the guy whose perjury sent Thomas More to the block.
Richard Rich is an animation filmmaker whose credits include The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The King and I, The Swan Princess and The Trumpet of the Swan. He also worked on some generally lame Bible shorts, including some that actually are about Jesus. He also made Muhammad: The Last Prophet. Would you be startled to learn that Rich is a Mormon? I kind of was. Rich founded RichCrest Animation, now called Crest Animation and owned by Lionsgate. His work is consistently mediocre, and this is no exception.
There is one character in Alpha and Omega with a bit more bite than the others: Kate’s mother Eve (Vicki Lewis), a sort of Serial Mom type whose chipper ex-cheerleader exterior barely conceals her ruthless protective instincts. And there is at least one funny line: Toward the end, when Kate decides at the last minute that she can’t go through with marrying her intended, and the two wolf packs descend into open warfare, in the midst of the snapping and snarling someone says, “I just love weddings.”
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.