Over the Hedge


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, “Over the Hedge” is a mildly entertaining diversion that will appeal to kids, despite its similarity to a heap of recent computer-animated movies with tenacious talking animals. Whether or not one enjoys the strange texture of pixel-spawned imagery, these new movies seem a far cry from the golden age of Walt Disney’s meticulous efforts. “Over the Hedge” ends up spinning a tale as bland as the suburban housing developments it purports to lampoon, with the added nuisance of mounting a half-hearted attempt at satire undermined by the film’s own existence as a commodity likely to rack up plenty of additional cash from the sales of “Over the Hedge” toys, books, and video games.

Adults are likely to enjoy the references made to films such as “Citizen Kane,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “The Silence of the Lambs” more than the manic episodes that comprise the movie’s slim plot. A prologue introduces us to an enterprising raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis), who finds himself in dire straits when he tries to pilfer from the food supply of surly bear Vincent (Nick Nolte). Given a limited period of time to replace Vincent’s stash, RJ hoodwinks an assortment of foraging critters led by cautious turtle Verne (Garry Shandling) into swiping goodies from the humans on the other side of the titular barrier that divides the wildlife from manicured lawns and swimming pools.

Only Verne is able to sense RJ’s duplicitous nature, and the turtle’s ego is bruised when his role as team leader is usurped by the smooth-talking omnivore. The other members of the group – including hyperactive squirrel Hammy (Steve Carell), father-daughter possums Ozzie (William Shatner) and Heather (Avril Lavigne), self-aware skunk Stella (Wanda Sykes), and a family of porcupines led by Lou (Eugene Levy) and Penny (Catherine O’Hara) – are charmed by RJ, especially when he introduces them to the addictive taste of artificially-flavored nacho cheese chips.

The movie’s stabs at America’s love affair with junk food and television fail to draw much blood, given the glorification of all things salty or sweet that come in bags and cans. In fact, with the exception of levelheaded Verne, all the animals are as hell-bent as human beings on amassing enough nutrition-free snacks to cause coronaries all around. The movie settles into a pattern in which the animal gang crosses the shrub boundary to raid backyard garbage cans. This continues until enough running time has been covered to constitute decent feature length.

By the final act, “Over the Hedge” grows tiresome, particularly given the shrill quality of the two-dimensional human characters voiced by Allison Janney and Thomas Haden Church. An extremely clever sequence, in which the already manic Hammy gulps an energy-boosting beverage, rises above the film’s remaining formulaic steps, but most of the later action lacks anything novel or noteworthy. While “Over the Hedge” is not a musical, Ben Folds contributes a handful of tunes that serve to kill time between action bits. Like the movie itself, the songs are pleasant without being terribly memorable.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/22/06.

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