|Over the Hedge (2006)
Starring: voices of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Thomas Haden Church, Allison Janney, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy, William Shatner
Director: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
DreamWorks Animation’s movies have made piles of cash – of course, the over-reporting of the DVD sales of one of those movies caused a major class action lawsuit, but I digress – yet here’s the rub: they’re not terribly good. “A Shark’s Tale”? “Madagascar”? Even the “Shrek” movies? “Easiest joke at every opportunity” is their only rule. DreamWorks’ newest, “Over the Hedge,” isn’t without its flaws, either. The dialogue is perfunctory at best, and the voice director clearly doesn’t know the difference between commanding and over the top. On the plus side, the filmmakers have taken copious notes on what their animation peers are doing right, and employ those techniques to great effect. Talent borrows; genius steals.
The story begins with an opportunistic raccoon named RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) getting caught stealing, and accidentally destroying, all of the food of Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte). Vincent gives RJ until the next full moon to replace all of his food, or RJ will be his food. I’m positive a ticking clock actually appeared in the shot of the moon.
RJ targets a nearby suburb as the perfect place to make his killing, and finds a group of timid, hibernating woodland creatures, led by turtle Verne (Garry Shandling) to unknowingly help him. They, like the bear, have just woken up, and are completely freaked out by the hedge (the outer edge of the suburb community) that has blocked them off from what used to be the rest of the forest. RJ teaches the foragers what it’s like to be a scavenger – junk food rules, kids, tell your parents – and the animals treat RJ like one of their own…which RJ hates, since he knows he’s only going to betray them.
First, the bad points: the dialogue is pretty flat. This cast is filled with comedy pros, from Shandling and Steve Carell (whose hyperactive squirrel Hammy steals the movie) to the dynamic duo of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (think Frances McDormand and her three-cent stamp husband from “Fargo”), and damned if they’re given anything to work with. If there’s anything good to be said about the dialogue, it’s that it’s not loaded with sexual innuendo or otherwise inappropriate material for children, like a certain ogre movie which shall remain nameless. Also, a finger must be pointed at the director of the voice talent (one or both of the co-directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick, I assume), who somehow coaxes shrill, uneven performances out of both human villains (the great Allison Janney and Thomas Haden Church), while neutering the others, save Carell and Wanda Sykes’ skunk Stella. Hey, there’s a joke involving that name, what is it again…?
Okay, enough complaining, let’s get to the good stuff. Despite the grievances above, “Hedge” is funnier than every other DreamWorks movie combined. There are some crazy chase sequences that have no basis in physics, but they work, damn it. As for the stolen bits, Hammy is clearly modeled after Scrat from the “Ice Age” movies (smart move, since Scrat is the only character in those movies worth watching), and one secondary – but unforgettable – joke from “Finding Nemo” is hilariously adapted here. They were also wise to acknowledge that they’re living in the world of animation, gleefully taking liberties with reality and using some truly random, and dead perfect, long distance shots (the less you know, the better). More analytical, self-loathing writers will surely point out how the animals are redeemed by their willingness to consume American junk culture and how self-serving a message that is, but I’m not one of those people. Sometimes a movie is just a movie.
I expected nothing from “Over the Hedge,” and came out grinning ear to ear. I noted the flaws and filed them away, but they in no way prevented me from thoroughly enjoying this movie. They’re still a ways away from capturing a Pixar-esque level of magic, but they’ve taken great leaps in stepping up the quality and intelligence of their work, and that is to be commended. As long as there are no more Lord Farquaads on the horizon, DreamWorks Animation’s future looks bright, indeed.