Review by Paul Stathakis | 2006

These friends are entertaining

Over the Hedge”, like most mod­ern ani­mat­ed films, con­tains quirky char­ac­ters, inven­tive humor, and notable com­put­er work — all the ingre­di­ents nec­es­sary to a pleas­ing ani­ma­tion work. It will charm kids and adults equal­ly who won’t mind sit­ting through 90 min­utes which zip right by in cute­ness and in laughter.

Vin­cent the bear (voiced by Nick Nolte) awak­ens to dis­cov­er that his stash of stolen food has been stolen.  He catch­es the thief, RJ the rac­coon (voiced by Bruce Willis), in action and gives him a week dead­line to return all his food or else. This open­ing scene sets the tone for the film as RJ explains his rea­son for steal­ing the food: “I’m just a des­per­ate guy try­ing to feed his fam­i­ly.”  Vin­cent, angry, replies in his deep voice, “You don’t have a fam­i­ly.”  RJ kicks back, “I meant a fam­i­ly of one.”  The char­ac­ters are as adorable as every bit of the dialogue.

Skip to Verne (voiced by Gary Shan­dling) and his wood­land friends.  As spring arrives, they awak­en from their long win­ter nap to dis­cov­er that a tall green hedge has furtive­ly cropped up through the mid­dle of their ter­rain.  They each won­der what it is.  They’ve nev­er seen any­thing like it before.  They move toward it cau­tious­ly.  Ham­my (voiced by Steve Car­rell), an off­beat squir­rel, runs to one end of the hedge.  He informs his friends that it nev­er ends.  Ham­my then sprints to the oth­er end and back.  “It nev­er ends that way, too.”  I was remind­ed of the apes and the astro­nauts who curi­ous­ly stand before the Mono­lith in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 

Verne, a thought­ful tur­tle, decides to be the brave one of the pack.  He ven­tures passed the hedge and notices a neigh­bor­hood.  There are hous­es, peo­ple, kids play­ing in the streets, cars, and even sprin­klers.  After being “shell-shocked”, he returns to his friends and tries to explain what he wit­nessed on the oth­er side of the vast bush.  RJ drops in on Verne and the rest of the gang and sees an oppor­tu­ni­ty to recov­er Vin­cen­t’s food stock quick­er, with their help.  RJ explains that the world beyond the hedge is, “the gate­way to the good life.”  He con­vinces them to not be afraid.  When they ask him just how much food is avail­able over the hedge, he replies enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly: “Loads of food, heaps of food, food out the wazoo.” 

Com­pared to “Find­ing Nemo” or “The Incred­i­bles”, “Over the Hedge” isn’t ground-break­ing and it doesn’t pre­tend to be.  Nev­er­the­less, we sense through­out every sequence, the dia­logue, the col­ors, and the absur­di­ty, a group of film­mak­ers and writ­ers who worked togeth­er in har­mo­ny. I applaud them for tak­ing such a sim­ple sto­ry and trans­form­ing it into an agree­able movie with char­ac­ters that make us gig­gle and with a visu­al style that is often grat­i­fy­ing to the eye.

After watch­ing a num­ber of com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed ani­ma­tion films, I have come to real­ize that they can­not be entire­ly endear­ing if they do not: a) have a good sto­ry or, for that mat­ter, a sto­ry, b) cute com­i­cal char­ac­ters that we don’t mind spend­ing 90 or more min­utes with, c) great detail, and d) the right voic­es for each char­ac­ter.  “Over the Hedge” con­tains all of above.  There is even William Shat­ner who lends his voice to a pos­sum who loves to play dead and there is a scene where he quotes “Cit­i­zen Kane.”  There is also the evil exter­mi­na­tor, “The Ver­mina­tor” (voiced by Thomas Hay­den Church), who vows to imprison Verne and com­pa­ny.  Then, there is RJ who explains how humans dri­ve the food, wear the food, and wor­ship the food.  Oh, and even what they take when they have too much food.  It is extraordinary.


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