Sony Pictures Animation is one of the best modern animation studios out right now. Since they were formed in 2002, they've made a lot of animated films I've either liked or loved like "Surfs Up", "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", "Hotel Transylvania", and of course "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse". It's easy to say these films have shown their range and potential as a studio which more than makes up for their awful debut, "Open Season". Released in 2006, this was the debut animated film for the company and despite having two talented directors working on it, it's both one of Sony Pictures Animation's worst films as well as one of the worst debut films for an animation studio ever. It certainly isn't their worst film, but it's definitely up there as one of their worst.
In the town of Timberline, a bear named Boog (Martin Lawrence) has been performing as the star attraction of the town's nature show while living a civilized life with park ranger Beth (Debra Messing). One day, Boog discovers a mule buck with a broken antler named Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) on the hood of the truck of local hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise). After he frees him, Elliot becomes attached to Boog and calls him his buddy. Boog, on the other hand, doesn't want him around and tries getting rid of him which only leads to trouble. Realizing Boog has become too dangerous, Beth relocates him and Elliot into the forest above the waterfalls safe from the hunters when the open season starts. Wanting to get back home and show Beth that he can be good, Boog enlists the help of Elliot to help get through the forest back to town while encountering the other animals in the forest. Meanwhile, Shaw vows revenge on Boog and goes into the forest to try to kill him in Elliot, and from there, unfunny wacky hijinks ensue.
There's a lot that went wrong with this film that I don't even know where to start. It might be easy to throw the blame on the directors of this film, but I think that would be unfair. The film was directed by two talented directors, Roger Allers and Jill Culton, and I know both can make a good animated film. Jill Culton later went on to direct "Abominable" at DreamWorks while Roger Allers previously made "The Lion King" at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Even co-director Anthony Stacci went onto direct "The Boxtrolls" at Laika. All three have proven to make good animated films so I can't put most of the blame on them. I think the screenwriters of this film are the ones to blame for this mess. This was written by the same duo who previously wrote "Chicken Little" at Walt Disney Animation Studios and this film is just as bad as that. There's a good idea in this story somewhere. Even though the idea has been done before with other animals, I like the idea of a bear trying to readjust to nature after living a civilized life for so long. There's some fun to be found somewhere with that concept. Unfortunately, the script for the film is absolutely awful and it sinks the entire film. The story goes through the predictable beats and doesn't have any surprises or anything unique that makes the film stand out. It also doesn't help that every single joke in this film falls flat and just made me groan. It's desperately unfunny and sometimes unpleasant. Throughout the film, you see Boog struggle with adjusting to nature and all the animals in the forest bully him and make him feel miserable and it's just sad to watch. You want him to succeed and get back home, but because all the characters give him such a hard time, there's not a lot of good reasons for him to stay in the forest which makes the ending of the film feel very unearned. There's also a fair amount of poop jokes in the film including an entire scene where Boog needs to do his business and is being given a hard time by the animals and it just made me cringe. As far as the animation goes, it doesn't hold up at all. While the animal designs and models are okay and the film has some gorgeous painted backdrops that resemble the fabulous work of Disney painter Eyvind Earle, the computer animation models don't blend with it and end up clashing big time. It also doesn't help that the humans look very awkwardly designed. Though the worst element of this animation is the effects animation and it does not hold up at all. There's an entire sequence where Elliot and Boog are being chased by Shaw in a flooding river, and the animation of the water looks atrocious. It looked like jello most of the time and some of the splashes looked so bad that I swear I could see unrendered pixels. It also doesn't help that Sony Pictures Animation released "Surfs Up" the year after this film and it has lots of beautifully designed water that has aged phenomenally which gives this film no excuse. As far as the characters go, there also mostly not good. Boog is an average fish out of water protagonist who's trying to get home and I guess he works fine enough. He had some moments where you did sympathize with him and Martin Lawrence did a decent performance as him as well though I think the character could've been a little bit better had they given him some more personality. On the other hand, Elliot absolutely annoyed me to no end. He was awful and throughout most of the film, I wished he just shut up. I guess Sony was trying to make him like Donkey from "Shrek", but the difference was that Donkey was funny since he was played by Eddie Murphy, not to mention he actually helped out Shrek quite a bit throughout the film. Meanwhile, Elliot mostly got in the way and barely did anything useful while having an absolutely annoying performance by Ashton Kutcher. If Kutcher was trying to make the character annoying, he succeeded but he sure didn't make him likable. Also, the other animal characters in the film were just as awful as Elliot as all of them picked on poor Boog and made him feel miserable. The filmmakers were trying to make us like them and think they were funny, but I just loathed them. The character of Shaw was a weird villain and the idea that he thinks Boog is starting an uprising amongst the animals just didn't work for me. Not to mention, Gary Sinise was way too over the top as the character. I like Gary Sinise, but this was definitely not one of his better roles. I did like the character of Beth though. She was sweet and had some caring moments for Boog, but I wished she was in the film much more than she was. Another thing I hated about this film were the songs by Paul Westerberg. They basically illustrated what the mood of the film was supposed to be or summed up the thoughts in the character's heads and all it did was annoy me since the animation already did that.
All in all, "Open Season" was a terrible film. The story had potential but was sunk by a terrible script, the animation had some good elements to it but had a lot of elements that aged poorly, and most of the characters just came off as awful. I have a lot of respect for Sony Pictures Animation as well as the directors and think they've made some great films, but this is certainly not one of them. I'm just at least glad they've moved on from this because if anything, this is a film that should just get lost in the woods.