Middle Row, Centre: Animated Family Fun — and Canadian, Too

Alpha and Omegais a charming Canadian-made animated feature that’s proving to be a hit with family audiences at the Yukon Theatre. Set in Alberta’s Jasper Park, it’s actually a love story that takes place amidst a pack of wolves.

The strict tradition of the pack is that there are Alpha wolves, who are the leadership class, and then there are the Omegas, the underdogs. Alphas never condescend to have dealings with Omegas, and the Omegas can never aspire to become part of the ruling-class Alphas.

The tradition is rigidly maintained, until the day a pack of Eastern Wolves move into the park and challenge the pack’s access to the limited food supply of caribou. A turf war looks imminent between the rival packs until a solution is found.

Winston, the pack’s Alpha leader, decides that rather than going to war with each other, the packs should unite and share the food. The merger of the packs is to be achieved by marrying off Kate, Winston’s winsome daughter, to Garth, a leading Alpha from the rival Eastern Timber Wolves. Stability will be maintained, much in the manner of human gangs uniting out of mutual self-interest, and the established order will prevail.

The only fly in the ointment proves to be Humphrey, a slacker Omega type who spends most of his time careening down snowbound hills in hollowed-out logs with his layabout friends, and who has a crush on Kate.

Separated from the pack, the two are suddenly stricken in mid-flirtation by the tranquilizer guns of a pair of forest rangers, who cart them off in their van in the direction of distant Idaho, where they’re intended to replenish the local wolf pack in a state-supervised repopulation program.

The fact that a union of Kate and Humphrey would constitute a forbidden mixed marriage is of little consequence to the rangers, but back home in Jasper, the two packs are literally howling. It appears that the missing Kate and Humphrey have eloped, the plans for uniting the packs have been thrown into disarray and war seems imminent.

The rest of the film portrays Kate’s and Humphrey’s adventures on the road as they manage to escape from their captors, hitch rides in pickups, hop freights and brave the wrath of murderous grizzly bears. Through it all, what started out as a one-sided dalliance on Humphrey’s part manages to spark some interest from the lovely Kate, further complicating matters.

It’s all rather formulaic, and the wolves don’t look the least bit threatening most of the time, but Alpha and Omega is good family fun. The film was Dennis Hopper’s last cinematic outing before his death, and he voices Tony, the gangsterish leader of the rival Eastern Wolves, in suitably menacing fashion. Justin Long, most recently cast in the animated feature Megamind, voices Humphrey, and Hayden Panettiere, star of last year’s I Love You, Beth Cooper, does the voice of Kate.

Alpha and Omegaplays at 7:00 and 9:10 p.m., with weekend matinees at 1:00 and 3:10 p.m. at the Yukon Theatre, and is rated G.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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