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Over the Hedge
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick (directors)
Genre:   Computer Animated Talking Animal Movie
Released:   May 19, 2006
Review Date:   June 21, 2006
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

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, baby!

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 Avril Lavigne.

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 through Doogal, 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 it.

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.

If RevSF contributor Martin Thomas were a woodland creature, he’d be . . . a sassy black skunk!

 
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