Featuring the voices of:
RJ the raccoon: Bruce Willis
Verne the turtle: Gary Shandling
Hammy the squirrel: Steve Carell
Stella the skunk: Wanda Sykes
Ozzie the possum: William Shatner
Lou the porcupine: Eugene Levy
Penny the porcupine: Catherine O’Hara
Heather the possum: Avril Lavigne
Vincent the bear: Nick Nolte
Tiger the cat: Omid Djalili
Dwayne the Verminator: Thomas Hayden Church
Gladys: Allison Janney
DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick. Written by Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, Davey Hoselton and Kirkpatrick. Based upon characters created by Michael Fry and T. Lewis. Running time: 87 min. Rated PG (for some rude humor and mild comic action).
Most movie experiences are enhanced by seeing the film with the large audience for which the film is targeted. Even seeing a schlock horror film can be a good time if the theater’s filled with shrieking teenagers. Such is not always the case, however, as I found out watching DreamWorks Animation’s newest CGI entry “Over the Hedge”. The theater was filled with young kids screaming and crying, hanging off the back of my seat; and, yes, two of them were mine.
This is not to say the children (or I) did not enjoy the film. It was a good comedy with some nice cracks at life in suburbia and how wildlife might interpret some of our more odd human rituals. But it is a shame the cast wasn’t there in the movie theater to poke fun at parents torturing themselves in the darkened room by gathering with their children, stuffing them full of sugar and watching them spin their little heads off.
...But back to the movie. “Over the Hedge”, based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, tells the story of a rascally raccoon, RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis, “Lucky Number Slevin”), who gets into a bit of trouble when he’s caught stealing the motherload of junk food from a hibernating bear named Vincent (Nick Nolte, “Hotel Rwanda”). Woken a week early from his winter nap in a bad temperament, Vincent gives RJ the week to replace all of the loot or RJ will become his next junk food snack.
Luckily RJ stumbles across a group of woodland animals who have awoken from their winter slumbers to discover a giant hedge in their forest; on the other side of which suburbia has moved in. It’s up to RJ to teach these forest dwellers how to survive in the concrete jungle. Soon, he is showing them the delectable wonders of trash cans, the paranoid highs of energy drinks, the euphoric lows of MSG, along with the gullibility involved in the human fear of nature.
Now, this is the most eclectic assortment of animals I’ve ever seen. Their leader is an innocuous turtle named Verne (Gary Shandling, “What Planet Are You From?”). Hammy is a tightly wound Squirrel (Steve Carell, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”). There are a father and daughter, Ozzie and Heather (voiced respectively by William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame and pop music star Avril Lavigne), take great pride in their ability to literally “play possum.” Stella (Wanda Sykes, “Monster-in-Law”) the skunk is just dying to perform her own special species power and eventually gets her chance to drop her bomb. A family of porcupine, headed by Lou and Penny (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara respectively, “Best in Show”), provide the group’s familial foundation.
RJ is merely using his new found friends as a resource to dig himself out of the trouble he landed himself in with Vincent. But when the animals eventually anger the head of the neighborhood’s home owners association (Allison Janney, TV’s “The West Wing”) and she hires a pest control expert who refers to himself as The Verminator (Thomas Hayden Church, “Sideways”), RJ finds himself regretting his actions and longing to be a part of their odd family.
While there is little to jump up and down about in this unimposing film, there is also very little with which to find fault. Perhaps some of the voice-over artists are a little out of place in such an innocent environment; overall, however, they seem well cast. Thomas Hayden Church as The Verminator may have been a second choice, as the part seems as if it were written for perennial voice-over actor Patrick Warburton (see New Animation Rule from my “Hoodwinked!” review). The actors’ similar vocal intonation and delivery make Church a worthy fallback. Oh, and as with “The Wild”, William Shatner’s outstanding delivery is vastly under utilized here.
“Over the Hedge” certainly breaks no new ground in the arena of family oriented animation, but it does provide a few good laughs. It makes some pointed jabs at the consumerist culture so prevalent in America. The animals staring in wonder at the size of an SUV as RJ points out that they usually are only able to transport one human, is a particularly sharp barb. The film is good enough to overcome the maddening experience of a Cineplex family matinee screening, and that has to say something about its level of success.