You cannot watch the DVD of Shrek
2 without first sitting through Ben Stiller hosting
an infomercial about the movie Madagascar. Not that it's
my recommendation; it's just that the DVD is engineered so that
you can't skip to the main menu until it finishes playing. What
I noticed early on is that Stiller spends very little time telling
you about the story. He doesn't even spend that much time telling
you about the characters. Instead his main bullet points are
all about what big-name celebrities are doing the voices. I
found this to be the case with most movies released by Dreamworks,
especially their animated movies. It's all about the star power,
None of the TV spots for Over The Hedge mentioned that
it was based on a popular daily newspaper comic strip. But they
were sure to let you know that it featured the voices of Bruce
Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell, William Shatner, Nick
Nolte, Allison Janney, Thomas Haden Church, Wanda Sykes and
I sorta, um, lied earlier
when I said no good 3-D animated movies came out after The
Incredibles. If you look closer at my list of shame
you may have notice that Over The Hedge was suspiciously
missing. If you're at all shocked, I can't say I blame you.
When I slept through — er, uh . . . sat
it opened with back-to-back trailers for The
Wild, Over The Hedge, Open Season and Ice
Age: The Meltdown. They just seemed to blend together
into one computer-generated furry mass.
Since that time, Open Season hasn't been released, The
Wild turned out to be exactly like Madagascar
(The Wild was actually in production a whole year before
Madagascar; who here can say "corporate espionage"?)
and Ice Age 2 (which looked like would be the best) was
nothing more than a blatant attempt to pull money from the popularity
of the first one. There was no reason to think Over The Hedge
would be anything less than tedious.
Not to mention that the comic strip it's based on is rather
generic and unremarkable. It tells the story of a raccoon named
RJ and a turtle named Verne who come to terms with their woodlands
being taken over by suburbia, trying to survive the increasing
flow of humanity and technology while becoming enticed by it
at the same time. Sounds more interesting than it actually is
on a daily basis. The film adaptation takes this premise and
runs with it.
Racoon RJ (Bruce Willis), after unsuccessfully trying to get
a snack item from a vending machine, ventures into the cave
of the hibernating bear, Vincent (Nick Nolte). While attempting
to steal Vincent's cache of goods, as well as his red wagon
and blue cooler, RJ accidentally destroys them, and the awakening
bear gives RJ an ultimatum: Replace everything within a week
or get eaten himself.
RJ finds the new suburban development El Rancho Camelot
Estates, where he can steal all the replacement items he
needs. There, a community of foragers led by the practical turtle
Verne (Gary Shandling) awakens from hibernation. Verne immediately
directs his charges — Hammy (Steve Carrell) the screwy
squirrel, Stella (Wanda Sykes) the attitudinal skunk, Ozzie
(William Shatner) the hambone opossum and his daughter Heather
(Avril Lavigne), and Minnesota-accented porcupines Lou and Penny
and their offspring Spike, Bucky and Quillo — to start
their yearly search for food to store.
To their surprise and trepidation, they discover a hedge.
RJ, coming onto the scene, prompts them to scavenge for the
food treasures he promises they'll find beyond it, while Verne
fears what traps or predators also await. Yet a determined and
desperate RJ gets the woodland creatures to explore.
Using a combination of con artistry and caper movie antics,
they successfully snatch a wagon full of Girl Scout-like cookies.
The whole group except Verne joins in and begins to steal other
foods from the neighborhood of overfed, SUV-driving humans,
along with other items on RJ's secret list.
By the time the movie reaches this point it's hard not to
be in love with it, but when it gets to the third act the plot
takes off like a runaway train. Most of the jokes throughout
are genuinely hilarious, even on repeat viewings. All of the
characters are well fleshed out and the voice actors (whom I
wrongly snubbed before) bring them to life. It felt like these
were the roles William Shatner and Nick Nolte were born to play.
As for the latest "It guy," Steve Carrell, there isn't a single
scene that he — or rather "Hammy" — doesn't steal
clean away. There's a Hammy sequence at the climax that will
drop your jaw and make you smile every time you think about
Truth is, there's really only one bad thing I can say about
the movie . . . but it is a major one. Begining with
the original comic strip, Over The Hedge has a strong
pro-environmental, anti-consumerism stance. Most of the best
gags in the movie revolve around this. Yet some genius in the
marketing department saw fit to set up major cross-promotion
for the film with . . . Wal-Mart, the biggest all-time
offender of both philosophies. Now how am I supposed to decide
whether or not to buy Over The Hedge toys? That's not
just wrong, man, that's downright perverse.