"Over the Hedge" is another in the recent line of kids movies featuring talking critters (see also: "Madagascar", "The Wild"). While it has some definite issues, the picture is one of the more enjoyable family flicks to come along lately. The film, based upon the comic strip, starts with RJ the raccoon (voice of Bruce Willis) stealing Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte)'s supply of hibernation snacks. Vincent wakes up and grabs R.J. when gets too greedy and gives him 1 option: re-supply his stash or...well, lets just say, no more R.J.
The film then heads into the forest to find that the local animals have awakened to find a new Spring has sprung. However, they also find that much of their forest has been replaced by a housing development that sprung up over the Winter. A gigantic hedge has separated the animals of the forest from coming into the neighborhood. R.J., spying on the forest animals, decides to put them - Ozzie and Heather the possums (William Shatner and Avril Lavigne), Stella the skunk (Wanda Sykes), Hammy the squirrel (Steve Carell), Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling) and Lou and Penny the porcupines (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) - to use: he'll teach them about how to raid the garbage cans of the humans for food.
While leader Verne doesn't trust R.J. at first, the other animals buy in hook, line and sinker when he introduces them to the wonders of nacho cheese corn chips. Maybe not as good as the quality peanuts I used to feed local squirrels (and, word of advice, feed squirrels long enough and they will sit and patiently wait outside and try to get your attention until you give them more peanuts.)
When the deeply annoying head of the local homeowners association (Allison Janney) finds that animals have broken through the hedge, she calls in an exterminator (Thomas Hayden Church) to rid the neighborhood due to her worries about dropping property values. In the meantime, Verne continues to become more suspicious of R.J.
The film's voice cast certainly contributes a lot of the laughs. R.J. is a reminder that Willis can offer a solid comedic performance. Shandling is also terrific, as are Sykes and Shatner. While every single animated animal movie has tried to replicate "Ice Age"'s hyperactive little Scrat, Carrell makes Hammy a very funny little creature. Technically, the film also shines, with an enjoyable (if not quite "Pixar-level") amount of detail to the creatures and their surroundings, as well as an enjoyable, "ground level" perspective.
The story is about as thin as it gets and the film doesn't poke at its targets (the 'burbs, junk food) hard enough. Still, the terrific cast manages to enliven the material and "Over the Hedge" gets some good (see: hyperactive Hammy's "power" when he finally drinks caffeine) laughs and remains engaging for a good portion of its 87 minutes.
VIDEO: "Over the Hedge" gets a superb 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation from Dreamworks. The digitally animated picture looks crisp and clear throughout the show, with all of the small details of the animated critters clearly showing through.
The film looked sharp and clean throughout the show, with no edge enhancement, pixelation or shimmering spotted. The film's bright color palette showed up quite wonderfully, looking well-saturated and vibrant. While the animation doesn't match what Pixar offers, this presentation shows off the very fine imagery about as well as can be expected.
SOUND: "Over the Hedge" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Dreamworks. The film's audio is quite straightforward/dialogue-driven throughout much of the film. However, a few key moments (including a loud boom that offers some VERY low bass) are a bit more aggressive and open out the sound a little more. Audio quality was fine, with crisp and clear dialogue, music and effects. Some additional outdoor ambience would have been nice.
EXTRAS: Directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick are joined by producer Bonnie Arnold for an audio commentary. "Behind the Hedge" lasts 12 minutes and wraps up several subjects (the original comic, having the animators spend time with real animals, the animation) under one featurette. The piece thankfully remains informative and not as fluffy and promotional as these sorts of pieces usually are. Speaking of fluffy and promotional, "Meet the Cast" is a 15-minute chat about how terrific the cast is. "The Tech" is a 6-minute chat about the animation and how the mission seems to have been how to make the characters as cute as possible.
"Hammy's Boomerang Adventure" is a short animated flick focusing on hyperactive Hammy. We also get a featurette on how to draw Hammy, image galleries, promos for other titles, a "Critter 411" featurette and interactive games/activities. There's also a preview for the upcoming animated "Bee Movie", starring Jerry Seinfeld, as well as a promo for "Shrek III" that literally spends nearly three minutes telling everything that happened in the first two pictures.
Final Thoughts: "Over the Hedge" does offer a rather thin story that feels a little stretched to get it to nearly 90 minutes. However, the film's great voice cast does make it work throughout much of the running time, resulting in some good laughs. The DVD offers excellent video quality, fine audio quality and a nice selection of supplements. A recommended family flick.
The Film B