Thursday, May 25, 2006

Over the Hedge

OVER THE HEDGE (Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick, 2006)

In OVER THE HEDGE forest critters raid a well-stocked home to replenish their food supply, or at least that's what they think they're doing. They've been conned by RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis), a lone glutton who was caught stealing a bear's snack food stash and is given a week to replace the goodies. RJ's task takes him to the suburbs, the one place where he's assured of finding more than what he needs.

Amid the homes he meets several animals dwelling in the one patch of undeveloped land. Although previously content to forage, these natural diet creatures adapt overnight when RJ introduces them to the wonders of processed foods. Hooked on sugar and artificial additives, they begin hoarding snacks for the next winter.

OVER THE HEDGE makes some acute observations about overconsumption and urban sprawl. The McMansions boast lawn art adorned with animals, an ironic choice since the homes are destroying those creatures' habitats. The film's villains, our screen surrogates, are wasteful and negligent to the environment. The animals are shown to be all too willing to abandon their healthy and sustainable way of life for empty calories and overindulgence. OVER THE HEDGE makes its points, but too often these messages weigh down the film.

In one happy development, OVER THE HEDGE is free of product placement, save for a home theater joke about THX. This movie had every legitimate reason to pack in real foodstuffs, but unlike the insidious product mentions in THE WILD and CURIOUS GEORGE, it uses fictional brands.

Anymore it seems like animated films strive too hard to prove their hipness (or seriousness) to adults than to tell good stories with fun characters to entertain everyone in the family. This moderately amusing computer-animated comedy is torn between its zany, go-for-broke nature and the strictures of trying to be everything for everyone.

Although stale, references to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and CITIZEN KANE attempt to make adults feel clever for getting them. Ben Folds contributes a few songs, seemingly appealing to those between the little ones and mom and dad. The problem is most evident in voicecasting celebrities who are perceived to be valuable draws on the poster and in the trailer regardless of if they can meet the unique challenges of voice acting. Bruce Willis is bland as RJ, and Avril Lavigne delivers a few anonymous lines as a possum. But their presence brings out their fans, right? Meanwhile, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, accomplished comedians with perfect cartoon voices, barely have anything to do.

Faring better are Steve Carrell as the manic squirrel Hammy and Thomas Haden Church, who does an amusing turn as a high tech exterminator. Carrell and Haden Church succeed because they tailor their performances to the characters rather than playing off their celebrity.

The film's best scene is Hammy's freak-out when he guzzles a high caffeine drink and experiences everything slowing down. When OVER THE HEDGE stops trying to be cool or About Something and gives in to its cartoon sensibility, like in that moment, it lands some good jokes. The filmmakers tend to use their best gags too often, such as the repetition of a long shot of a mushroom cloud or big explosion signifier coming from the planet or a house, but at least in those instances they're utilizing animation's freedom.

Grade: C

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