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Good actors can sometimes find salvation in not-so-good cartoons. Through the alter ego of Sid, the prehistoric sloth in the Ice Age movies, John Leguizamo was able to tap a warmer emotional range than live-action films have ever afforded him. And in the newly released Open Season, Gary Sinise, straightjacketed in mournful goodness by CSI: NY, gets to roll around on the floor of his growly baritone. As the voice of Shaw, a Ted Nugent–ish hunter ready to slay every four-legged critter in scope sight, Sinise goes beyond the caricature of red-state malevolence into something creepier than this easygoing grade-school flick can readily accommodate. When we first meet him, Shaw has already run down a mule deer named Elliot (voiced by Ashton Kutcher), and when a domesticated grizzly named Boog (Martin Lawrence) sets the deer free, Shaw vows to add both their heads to his already extensive collection. Before you can say “buddy movie,” Elliot and Boog are lost in the woods, butting heads and bickering and threatening to part and—have you guessed it yet?—becoming best pals. Elements of Over the Hedge, Brother Bear, and, well, pretty much every buddy movie known to man are on call here, but if the film’s various parts are more than gently used, the chassis still hums comfortably, and the animals themselves have a vivid texture, right down to the cookie crumbs in Boog’s fur. It helps, too, that directors Roger Allers, Jill Culton, and Anthony Stacchi know how to frame the action: a chase sequence down a long stretch of torrential rapids reminds you just what animation can do. By the end of Open Season, the hunted have turned on the hunters, and pets have given up their domestic niches for the fraternity of the wild. It’s an outcome that PETA might have scripted, but screenwriters Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman never press their agenda too hard, and the climactic battle sequence—an animal Agincourt—is uplifted by some agreeably sly, surreal images: a bellicose Scottish squirrel mounting a liberated dachshund and a pair of human dentures, grinning fixedly from a mallard’s mouth, like some unholy union between Lewis Carroll and Ducks Unlimited.

—Louis Bayard