Over the Hedge Review
By Shawn McKenzie 05/22/2006
2006 is shaping up to be a much better year for kiddie films than 2005 was. One of the reasons why it is so good is because of films like Over the Hedge.
It’s the beginning of springtime, and RJ the raccoon (voice of Bruce Willis) is trying to get a bag of chips out of a vending machine out of a truck stop. After failing to do that, he spots a big stash of junk food loaded up on a wagon in a cave. Unfortunately, it is the property of Vincent the grizzly bear (voice of Nick Nolte), and the big bear is currently near the end of his hibernation. RJ carefully manages to get the wagon past the sleeping bear, but he gets greedy and goes after a can of Spuddies (some Pringles-like chips) clutched in Vincent’s paws. It awakes Vincent, which accidentally makes the wagon roll down the hill and stop in the middle of the highway, where a truck rolls past and crushes the stash. Vincent is about to kill RJ, when he makes a deal with the bear to replace the stash, which would give Vincent more sustenance than the carcass of a raccoon. Vincent gives RJ a week to do this (until the next full moon) or he will be the bear’s next meal. Meanwhile, another set of forest animals are awaking from their hibernations. As they awake, they discover that a large hedge…something that wasn’t there last fall…lines the edge of their forest. Verne the turtle (voice of Garry Shandling) is a cautious turtle who leads the group. The other animals all have different personalities from Verne. Hammy (voice of Steve Carell) is a hyperactive squirrel who names the hedge “Steve.” Stella (voice of Wanda Sykes) is a brazen skunk who is offended when people think that she stinks. Ozzie (voice of William Shatner) is an overly dramatic possum who plays dead at the drop of a hat, and his daughter Heather (voice of Avril Lavigne) is a teenager who could die of embarrassment over her father’s actions. Porcupines Lou (voice of Eugene Levy) and Penny (voice of Catherine O’Hara) have three cute but playful kids…Quillo (Madison Davenport), Bucky (Sami Kirkpatrick), and Spike (Shane Baumel.) Verne is constantly worried that they won’t have enough food before winter rolls around, so he goes through the hedge to see what is on the other side. He is horrified by what he sees…human items like such as the sprinklers, fountains, and balls…and when he comes back, he tells them that the world on the other side of the hedge is too dangerous. RJ just happens to be around at this time, and he tells them that the area over the hedge is actually El Rancho Camelot Estates…a human neighborhood filled with houses packed with lots of food. All of the animals are immediately charmed into the prospect of easy food, except for Verne, who is still unconvinced. When RJ opens a bag of nacho cheese chips and lets them taste the cheese dust, they agree to assist him in gathering big loads of food (though he fails to mention that he is only doing it to replace Vincent’s food stash.) While it seems easy, there are a few obstacles. They have several fruitful operations in gathering food, but after trying to steal cookies from two Girl Scouts, Gladys Sharp (voice of Allison Janney), the human president of the homeowner’s association, catches a glimpse of them, and she calls in professional pest exterminator named Dwayne LaFontaine, a.k.a. “The Verminator” (voice of Thomas Haden Church), to exonerate them. After a few setbacks, they devise a plan to gather the mother-load of food from Gladys’ house. RJ knows that Gladys is having a party the next day, so the gang, including Verne, help with the plan. The plan is to disguise Stella as a regular housecat and distract Gladys’ pompous Persian cat, Prince Tigerius Mahmoud Shabazz, a.k.a. Tiger (voice of Omid Djalili), while the rest of them clean out the house of all their food. With Gladys and Dwayne on their trail, and Vincent hungrily waiting for his food stash, RJ hopes that he will make it in time before he becomes bear chow.
The movie was based on a syndicated comic strip of the same name by Michael Fry (the writer) and T. Lewis (the illustrator), and it was directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick. Other movies have been based on syndicated comic strips (as opposed to comic books), but they have been either live action adaptations (1980’s Flash Gordon; 1990’s Dick Tracy; 1997’s Prince Valiant; 2004’s Garfield), or they have been decidedly not for kids (Adult Swim’s “The Boondocks.”) This movie tops all of them, live action or adult. Kirkpatrick is a veteran animated writer, but this is his first (co-) directorial debut. Johnson’s other two movies were 1998’s Antz and 2003’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and this movie is better than both of them put together were.
Why is it so good? Aside from the great artwork, the vocal talents and the story were great. They tried to satire consumerism, but fortunately, it never came over as preachy. It was all-around laugh-out-loud funny, though there were a few standouts. Carell once again proves to be the highlight of any film he has been cast in during the last few years. While we have seen similar characters in the past (Ice Age’s Scrat comes to mind), Hammy won’t be forgotten by anyone who sees this movie. Willis is a great protagonist, and the three “bad guys” (Vincent, Gladys, and Dwayne) are good (though the two humans are the least fleshed-out characters drawn…but that is only a minor criticism.) Al of RJ’s other friends do an excellent job as well, with pop star Lavigne making an impressive vocal acting debut. In an interesting casting side-note, Sean Yazbeck and Lee Bienstock from NBC’s “The Apprentice 5” have cameos in the film as the BBQ Barry and Lunchtable Larry (this was a reward after winning a challenge involving the creation of a three-dimensional in-store display area at a Wal-Mart store for customers to demo the Xbox 360.)
I’m not going to give them a rating, but the movie was preceded by two shorts (at least at the screening I saw; I don’t know if they will be appearing when you see it in the theater, but they will probably be on the DVD.) The first one, “First Flight,” was a cute but sappy computer-animated short about a businessman waiting for a bus who teaches a baby bluebird how to fly. The second one, “Flushed Away,” was a claymation-animated short about a street mouse who tricks a snooty rich mouse into being flushed down the toilet, where he goes on a sewer adventure. The first one was virtually dialogue-free, and I think that the second one was a teaser for a feature film (actually, after some research, I discovered that the full-length movie comes out in November.) I preferred the second one myself.
Like I said…2006 has been better than 2005, and movies such as Over the Hedge is part of the reason why the box office is slowly going on the rebound. If you have already seen The Da Vinci Code already (either because you read the book or saw the movie that has the same plot) and you want a funny, family-friendly alternative, you can’t do much better than this wild animal laugh riot.
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