Over the Hedge
Directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick | DreamWorks Animation | 80 minutes
Voices of: Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Wanda Sykes, Nick Nolte, Omid Djalili, Allison Janney, Thomas Haden Church
When a new suburban neighbourhood arises, how does life change from the perspective of the cute little woodland creatures? The people from DreamWorks explore such a question in Over the Hedge, their fun but forgettable new computer-generated imagery tale, inspired by the popular comic strip of the same name and directed by Tim Johnson and Karpy Kirkpatrick.
One day a group of forest critters wakes from hibernation to find that a mysterious bush, which stretches as far as they can see, now occupies their woodland home. A cautious turtle named Verne (Gary Shandling) leads this varied bunch of little animals, who call themselves a family and protect one another. As they debate what to do, a wry raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis) appears, and explains to the beleaguered animals that the strange bush is called a “hedge” and that the unusual creatures on the other side are called “human beings”.
The remarkable things about these humans, RJ relates, is that instead of eating to live, like every other animal, they live to eat. They eat all day and all night. They carry food in boxes, bags, and trucks. They keep their food in their homes. They talk about food, pray over their food, and wear their food. And when they’re finished with all this food, “they leave the rest in these pretty, shiny, silver cans for us!”
What RJ has not divulged, is that he must amass a ton of food in six days to give to a sinister bear named Vincent (Nick Nolte) or suffer dire consequences. After giving them a taste of delicious nacho chips, RJ succeeds in enlisting the forest family to unknowingly help him in this endeavour. To complicate the situation, human beings, of course, do not want wild animals anywhere around them and before long the adorable critters must number an enthusiastic exterminator and an acrimonious female home owner among their antagonists. The former sports a painfully unsightly comb-over and the latter epitomises the typical self-important president of the home owners’ association, with too much time on her hands and tension in her head. (At one point she attempts to disperse a gathering crowd by reminding everyone that, according to their by-laws, every home owner must pre-register “all groups of more than one.”)
This premise results in a film that entertains without being particularly imaginative. The story moves along nicely and does not drag, but it does not intrigue either. Over the Hedge has a heart, though, and children will likely enjoy it. The adults will gain a smile from it and little else. As the story proceeds, certain issues are addressed, but never fully developed. At times the film seems to be about suburban sprawl, then modern consumerism, then our preoccupation with food and weight, but in the end it’s just a fun ride.
Of notable quality are the action sequences. While not as clever as some of its predecessors, Over the Hedge at times, is one of the most thrilling animated films of recent years. Early in the film, Verne the turtle hustles away from a large marble ball in a brief action segment reminiscent of the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The audience goes along with the ride when the creatures careen down the road in a speeding truck or zoom into the air dragged by a wayward balloon.
As with other CGI films, Over the Hedge is visually stunning. The beauty, realism, and depth of the animation prove worthy of the price of admission. Uncannily life-like animals, plants, and buildings populate the movie. Likewise as with other CGI films, my suspension of disbelief ceased only when humans inhabited the screen. The animals, though anthropomorphic, seem quite real, while the humans appear as animated dolls. Why is it that in traditionally drawn animation, humans and animals can coexist in a seamless, believable world, but in computer-generated animation, where everything else very closely resembles the real world, humans look clumsily artificial? Someday perhaps computers will be able to create a life-like human being. For now this shortcoming only slightly detracts from the final product.
Over the Hedge does contain some clever moments as well. A skunk (Wanda Sykes) disguises herself as a cat to attract the home owner’s feline pet in a delightfully witty reversal of the Pepe Le Pew dynamic. When the critters steal a television set and remote, a group of porcupine youngsters quickly learns how to operate it and become more proficient than any of the adults, mirroring the human world. And in probably the most successful sequence of the film, an already manic squirrel (Steve Carrell) secures a caffeinated energy drink with results so precious that they will not be revealed here.
Furthermore, the movie has occasional sparks of bright, humorous dialogue. An opossum father tells his daughter: “Playing possum is what we do. We die so that we may live.” RJ, the raccoon is explaining what an SUV is to his curious companions. “Humans are slowly losing their ability to walk and this helps them get around.” When asked, “Really? How many does it hold?”, he answers: “Usually one.” However, the laughs of this DreamWorks production come considerably less frequently than in the last two Pixar efforts, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. By my count in the CGI game, Pixar is still ahead by at least a touchdown.
Ultimately, Over the Hedge is a worthwhile romp for the kiddies. It remains largely innocent of the sarcasm and flippancy of some recent entries in the genre. Two or three mildly crude jokes arise, but hardly offensive. A few segments may frighten very sensitive children, but over all, the movie is appropriate for all ages. The adults however, only there as chaperones, will view it and promptly get on with their lives — on this side of the hedge.
Justin Myers is a film reviewer and teacher of Latin and Greek in the Washington DC area.