There is a scene in DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge when Hammy (voiced by Steve Carell), an already-hyperactive squirrel, chugs a can of the most caffeinated cola on the market. Time literally stands still, everyone else moves in slow motion, and Hammy accomplishes his mission. This scene alone is worth the price of admission, but Over the Hedge is so consistently hilarious and polished that it can be grouped with the likes of Shrek.
As the film opens, RJ the raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) is getting ready to infiltrate and rob Vincent the bear (voiced by Nick Nolte) of all of his food. Things go awry and the food gets destroyed, and RJ soon finds himself on a one week deadline (while Vincent hibernates) to replace every last item. He happens upon a family of foragers, led by Verne the turtle (voiced by Garry Shandling). They are already stockpiling goods for the coming winter, which is a short 274 days away. RJ figures that with his smarts and the group’s collection skills, he should be able to easily recover the grub and repay Vincent. But things aren’t so easy: a giant hedge has grown between the animals’ habitat and a giant housing development during their hibernation. At first it is a gift because food can be found in every trash can, but soon a corporate swine of a woman (voiced by Allison Janey) and the local exterminator (voiced by Thomas Haden Church) move in for the kill.
Over the Hedge is funny without trying too hard and sweet without being melodramatic. It is also a scathing take on consumer America, their obsession with cell phones, SUV’s, and convenient food; not to mention utter disregard for nature. These themes are prevalent but are never shoved down our throats, and wisely so. Instead the majority of the film is devoted to the undeniably likable characters and outrageous situations that hit the mark at nearly every turn. The screenplay by Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, and Karey Kirkpatrick is not great from a dialogue standpoint, but the situations and comedic timing are among the best of any computer animation film we have seen. Directors Tim Johnson and Kirkpatrick keep things moving at a blistering, laugh-a-minute pace that even throws back to the best elements of old-school animation.
The look of the film is astounding, with every last detail accounted for. Johnson and Kirkpatrick really spice up the visual presentation by utilizing some unusual camera angles. The action is easy to follow, bright, and loaded to the gills with energy.
The voice work is superb, and longtime readers know how apprehensive I usually am about using first-rate actors’ voices in animated projects. They can easily be a distraction, but here the characters are so well-developed and likable that we become too engrossed to sit around and play the voice talent guessing game.
Over the Hedge may be unfortunate in that it has to open against The Da Vinci Code, but rest assured this is a fantastic animated picture that has something for everyone. Kids will eat up the luscious locales while adults will chuckle at the various film references (well-used, if not a bit predictable, I might add) from years past. Just when it seemed like the computer animation genre was losing some steam, Over the Hedge comes along and gives it a well-deserved boost.