Humphrey, center, voiced by Justin Long, in "Alpha and Omega."

Humphrey, center, voiced by Justin Long, in "Alpha and Omega." Credit: Lionsgate/Crest Animation

The title of the animated children's film "Alpha and Omega" may seem a tad obscure - is all the dialogue in Latin? - until you grasp that it's about wolves. Ah, ha! The story focuses on a born leader and a lowly follower who, thrown together on a journey, will subvert the pack paradigm.

The whole film is that way: Jokes and situations take a moment to process, and when the lightbulb goes off it tends to flicker. Sometimes you just remain in the dark: Why is that goose playing golf? Is there a joke in there?

The movie's premise is appealing enough: In Canada's Jasper National Park, the sleek, athletic Kate (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) is in leadership training, while her cubhood friend Humphrey (Justin Long) makes the most of his role as pack clown. He dreams of howling with her, as the movie saucily puts it, but Kate must marry Garth (Chris Carmack) to unite their rival packs. (Dennis Hopper voices Garth's hot-tempered father.)

When Kate and Humphrey are captured and shipped to Idaho to repopulate a preserve, he's certainly willing - but Kate must return to Jasper before war breaks out. Their cross-country trip will be filled with obstacles, peril and tender moments.

The ideas aren't very inventive (cute bear cub, angry mama) and the animation, by the Mumbai-Burbank studio Crest Animation, is stiff and sometimes downright ugly. The 3-D effect doesn't help, either. What's more, it's tough to make sense of Humphrey's special skill, which is tobogganing. What the howl?

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