Entirely watchable and over-reaching in its demographic-appropriateness, Over the Hedge is definitely a watchable film and is probably the best animated film to have come out this year. While it’s missing the satirical creativity that made Hoodwinked as enjoyable as it was, it’s obvious targets that it tries to satirize are really funny. Also this is the first animated film in a while that isn’t afraid to render violence in a funny way, something that the old Tom & Jerry movies were really good at. It’s unsurprising that the parts that are most fun are the ones that involve the pet exterminator (voiced by Thomas Haden Church I think) and his obsessive and violent behavior and of course the end when he gets what he deserves. I’m not saying that violence is good in kids films, but the recent drought has definitely been a negative. The truth is that there is nothing funnier than Wily E. Coyote falling from a cliff. I can watch it over and over again. I mean not even The Incredibles or other recent films like Doogal haven’t had the cajones to make violence funny. For some reason it’s always a very serious subject and it seems like the filmmakers are afraid that families with young children will say that the film is way too violent for a kids movie, when that isn’t the case.
Back to Over the Hedge – it’s a film that satirizes suburban living and also gives us a satirical glimpse at how animals might react towards humans moving in. While, it centers on a little too many characters at one time (Dreamworks is known for that – it’s almost always the case, except in their Shrek movies) almost everyone of them has a character identity, because of their individual quirks, and of course the different voices. The first character we see on screen is RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis), the main character in the film who in a bout of hunger, and greed, tries to steal all the food that a local bear (Nick Nolte) has. While he doesn’t steal the food, it gets hit by a car and is spoiled. The bear tells him that if the food is not back in his cave in the same condition as it was before, RJ is dead in a week…and the bear will do the killing.
So now RJ is forced to steal from the even more dangerous animals on the block – humans. But he needs some man-power, he can’t do it alone. Luckily, he comes across a group of animals that live in what used to be a forest, but is now a suburban park surrounded by houses. RJ notices the animals’ fear and uses it to ensnare their trust by acting as a know-it-all (which he probably is compared to them) and hopes that with their help he can gather all the food he needs to in the week. His manipulative ways are hindered though, by the fact that the group that he is using, starts to love him and starts to look at him as part of the family. And that is one thing that RJ never had in his life – a family, and the worst thing happens – he starts feeling guilty about what he’s doing to them.
The voice-work is great all around. The stand-outs here are Bruce Willis as RJ and William Shatner as the dying opossum Ozzie. RJ is super-cool as the antagonist or t least the troubled protagonist of the film and Shatner is a great Ozzie and adds some nice references to movies with quotes from them. Also solid are Steve Carrell as the crazy, but innocent squirrel Hammy (although he can get annoying), and Nick Nolte does a great job as the bear, sounding malicious as usual. It’s too bad that most of the other characters are let down by the bad voice-work. That is especially true for Stella the skunk, because Wanda Sykes absolutely ruins her. I mean why not get someone who is less identifiable. The skunk sounds too much like Wanda Sykes and it’s something that definitely takes away from the character. Garry Shandling is also a let-down. He’s simply bland as Verne the turtle, which is bad, because his character arc is one that requires us to care about him, and I found him boring to death.
Still, the characters look great as well as their surroundings. Especially impressive is the way suburbia is rendered, with it’s lawn ornaments and identical buildings. The forest is not as good though, but I think a forest is difficult to create in the 3D animation area. There are simply way too many shadows and individual leafs to make it successful. Even an animation studio dealing with a big budget like Pixar failed to create a good forest in The Incredibles. Of course this isn’t that big a deal in Hedge, because a lot of the action takes place in suburbia.
The film is frequently funny and it doesn’t try too hard to appeal to both adults and children like Doogal did, which is kind of what ruined it. No, I think the Hedge script was simply written with the demographic appeal not taken into consideration. It definitely makes the film flow easier and it’s want to entertain is very easy to accept. Overall this will appeal to the whole family, and even to the rebellious teens. It’s universal, because it’s different in it’s way of trying to get laughs from people, and it’s always fun. Pus it has a good message. Recommended.