Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini

Over the Hedge

Over the Hedge
Bruce Willis, Steven Carrell, Garry Shandling, William Shatner and Thomas Haden Church

Rated: PG 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: May 19, 2006 Released by: DreamWorks Animation

High-spirited family fun is par for the course in Over the Hedge from Tim Johnson (Antz) and the writer of Chicken Run, Karey Kirkpatrick.

The story, collaborated on by Kirkpatrick, has elements of Ice Age: The Meltdown and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It's not as delightfully intelligent like Shrek or Finding Nemo, but the detail in the computerized animation, along with the cute animal characters provide much witty observation.

An example of the tone established by the directing partners occurs in the eavesdropping of humans by woodland creatures led by the conniving raccoon RJ (Bruce Willis). In describing how they "live to eat", RJ explains to his "new family" that the kitchen table where grace is being said is "the altar where they worship the food." The scene cannily connects the notion of food to the likeable disparate critters in a rollercoaster sort of way.

These animals range from skunks and possums to squirrels and porcupines and the vocal talents are abetted by the likes of William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Wanda Sykes, Steve Carell, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Garry Shandling. The foragers out from hibernation are lured by RJ to do his dirty work after he performs a demonstration from his trusty golf bag. Instead of enjoying fiber-rich bark, there are treats like spuddies potato chips and cookies behind a big green wall named "Steve" by the group. Going through or over the hedge provides ample amounts of silly amusement and ultimately not overly sweet messages about family and friendship.

Nick Nolte gravelly intones Vincent the bear to whom RJ is indebted after swiping a horde of junk food in a manner that has subconscious and conscience pull. Especially after RJ, who considers himself a family of one, has the group getting the best over a suburban homeowner, the imperious stickler business-minded Gladys, voiced by Allison Janey. To combat her sudden infestation, the tall, angular lady calls on the "Verminator", combed-over Dwayne (Thomas Haden Church) deeply committed to pest control, knowing the make of animals in his sights.

The considerably frantic pacing leads to a sequence not far-removed from a tense live-action one in the concurrent Mission Impossible 3. Gaining a similar momentum near the climax to Shrek 2, Over the Hedge benefits from Carell (40 Year Old Virgin) as the deliriously hyperactive squirrel Hammy and Sykes as the sassy Stella, a skunk. The latter makes the most of her line readings even before a makeover keeps a spoiled Persian cat, Tiger, occupied. And, Carell, adorably gets into this lightning-fast character, immediately liking RJ, long before he gets a necessary caffeinated surge that hilariously slows things down.

Shandling's sensitively cautious and steady Verne is the emotional center of the picture and provides the strong skepticism against the fast-talking RJ noting something is wrong when his tail tingles. Verne's a part of some of the notable sight gags as he always seems to be losing his shell and sometimes looking dead just like Shatner's melodramatic paternal possum, Ozzie.

If Over the Hedge is too slight in its rendering of pilfering replacement supplies versus extermination, the photorealism in the CGI work offers much depth of field from foreground and background, a crispness of color and dimension from the innovative lighting. And, this sweet confection based on the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis has some light, enjoyably melodic original songs by Ben Folds with cover tunes into the end credits where a vending machine appears again with amusing results.

  Frank Chris Tony Jim Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Over the Hedge B+   B B   B+   B+

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