red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Over the Hedge

Cast (Voices): Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carell, Eugene Levy, Allison Janney,
         Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Thomas Hayden Church,
         Nick Nolte, Catherine O'Hara, Omid Djalili
Directors: Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick
Theatrical release: 2006; available on DVD


A fun, fast, feel-good summer movie is definitely not The Da Vinci Code, although that one's a pretty decent fictional thriller. (Check your philosophy and beliefs at the door, however.)

But for great voice-acting and good-looking animation, not to mention witty commentary on life in modern suburbia, you'll want to spend some time looking Over the Hedge. RJ the raccoon, Verne the turtle, and Hammy the squirrel of the comic strip with the same name have been spiffed up with the Dreamworks Studio treatment and that makes for a snazzy, laugh-out-loud adventure.

Michael Fry and T Lewis, the creative talents behind the syndicated comic, are part of the film's writing team. If you're not familiar with the strip, you'll find an "introduction" to it in their section of Comics.com, where you can also click through a month's worth of the story-panels, something well worth viewing if you don't get the paper version. A description from the site provides background: "Over the Hedge takes a freshly skewed look at suburban living from the perspective of the animals who lived there first. The characters philosophize about life and adapt their woodland habitat to incorporate all the creature comforts that suburbia has to offer. They fight to save their wooded wonderland from the evils and temptations of encroaching suburbia."

For example, the three critters encounter a new neighborhood nemesis — garbage cans with locking lids. Yikes! Verne, the cautious brainiac of the group, wonders aloud what they can do to get inside. RJ, ever the intrepid adventurer, whips out his trusty Swiss Army knife and searches through its tools. When he finds the "argon laser," he matter-of-factly comments that "apparently, the Swiss Army is a lot better armed than we all thought."

To create enough story for a movie, more characters are added and the troupe starts from scratch. RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) gets in trouble right off the bat by attempting to steal the winter snack stash of Vincent, a mostly-hibernating black bear (Nick Nolte). When he's caught (after the overloaded little red wagon is smashed by a passing truck), RJ makes a deal to replace everything — and heads to a newly constructed housing development for the goodies.

Of course, RJ needs help. Soon, he encounters the innocent forest creatures "over the hedge" who are just waking up to spring and to the hedge and to the field of houses that's taken over their part of the forest during the long winter's nap. Much hilarity ensues as RJ introduces this assortment of woodland rubes to their new neighbors and entices them into his plan with the allure of nacho cheese, among other suburban prizes. Of course, the humans get their comeuppance — as does the not-so-honest RJ himself, but all's well in the end.

Over the Hedge uses its voice talents masterfully. Willis has just enough wicked charm, Steve Carell is manic as Hammy the squirrel, William Shatner brings his trademark outsized emoting to the opossum who "plays dead" at the drop of a hat, and Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways) is an appropriately villianous vermin exterminator. Everyone else hits the right notes, too, creating memorable characters without getting in the way. At slightly more than an hour, Over the Hedge could be the most fun you'll have all summer — or anytime you need a break from reality!

 

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