A Bigger Budget Puts A&O Back on Track
2014 was a busy year for the Alpha and Omega franchise. The third and fourth entries to the series were released only 7-months apart (March 4th and October 7th respectively). And speaking of that October release date, that’s no coincidence either as The Legend of the Saw Tooth Cave was written to capitalize on the Halloween season with this one representing the creepiest themes of the series so far. It’s also the first in the ever-expanding series to do away with numbering the titles.
The story begins prior to the first film in a dark and shadowy forest, where a female wolf is being chased by other unseen wolves. She takes refuge for a moment behind a bush before jumping out, presumably to her doom. The camera zooms in the bush, revealing what appears to be a pair of two glowing eyes in the brush.
We then cut to present day, where Winston (Larry Thomas) and Tony (Bill Lader) are at Alpha school, training the future leaders of the pack – including Stinky (Kate Higgins) and Claudette (Lindsay Torrance). Runt, the cutest of the litter, is an Omega like his father and thus relegated to a very different school than his sibs.
Deciding the only thing to do to prove to his family and pack that he’s as courageous as the leaders, he musters up the courage to explore the notoriously haunted Saw Tooth Cave despite warnings from everyone from fellow wolves to porcupines.
What he finds, surprisingly, isn’t at all what’s expected and the supernatural element is never explained away (rare for a children’s film). There is no Scooby-Doo style unmasking going on here and in fact, the apparition is revealed to be one of guardianship and protection. It’s very refreshing to find a ghost story that doesn’t weasel its way out of any mysticism in fear of being a bit creepy.
The polish of the film is also quite improved over the previous entry and a good explanation of this comes from the budget itself- which increased from $1-million to $7-mil thus making it the second most expensive film in the series (the first of course belonging to the original which clocked in at $20-million) and the most expensive of all the direct-to-DVD sequels.
I don’t want to insinuate that the visuals are night-and-day improvements over the prior two sequels, but things seem to be running a bit more smoothly this time around and some of the textures and effects are definitely improved.
The biggest difference, though, is that the film’s writers seem finally to have been able to tap into the humor that made the first movie so successful. Some of the dialog here is genuinely funny and the beats of the production don’t rely only upon slapstick and cheap visual gags for laughs.
The cast is largely unchanged from the last films with the standout performance again coming from Jimmy Neutron’s Debi Darryberry (under new stage name Dee Dee Green) reprising her role as Runt.
The 45-minute film’s achievements are made even more remarkable by that fact that the film was only in production for about a year (and that it was the second in the series to come out in a single year). Bear in mind that most theatrical CG pieces require production cycles between 4-6 years.
All in all, Legend of the Saw Tooth Cave doesn’t reinvent the CG medium and it’s still apparently a direct-to-DVD production but at least it steers the franchise back toward the original film in terms of its wit and charm.
Considering since the time of this one’s release just two years ago, two more sequels have been released with a third on the way, one really starts to wonder why LionsGate and Crest Studios haven’t simply gone the way of DreamWorks and turned Alpha and Omega into an animated series. Perhaps that’s the eventual plan but in the mean time, this one is a lot closer to the sequel fans of the original have been expecting.