Over the Hedge (2006)

MPW-25443Little known fact for you which is sure to make you popular at parties: Before I knew this was based on an online comic, I thought this was a remake of “Pom Poko”. You can see my confusion with these stories if you knew film. “Pom Poko” is basically an Asian animated film about a group of animals living among a wilderness who discover that the nature they love is being devoured by houses, cities, and human residents. So, now you’re a better person for knowing that useless trivia. Moving on, I expected nothing from “Over the Hedge” and basically I received more than nothing. I received much of something that came from nothing… what was I talking about?

“Over the Hedge” is yet another fun film from Dreamworks that, though many will compare to Pixar, is really of its own breed. Dreamworks aren’t as technically advanced as Pixar, but when they want to entertain they sure can. With films like “Shrek”, and now this, their studio really breeds films that are hit or miss (Shrek 2, A Shark Tale). “Over the Hedge” is a hit, and I really liked it. Based on the online comic strip, the film adaptation is a less weighty more childish approach from the comic which is said to be a more subversive cartoon talking about politics and environment. The folks at Dreamworksm though, don’t go through the film without not talking about environment. “Over the Hedge” has ripe commentary about human consumption and our obsession with devouring everything in sight. In one scene RJ tells his friends all about how with humans enough is never enough, and the outside world is depicted as crowded, artificial and shallow. And rightly so.

After hibernating, the animals in their forest awake to discover that their home has been mowed down and formed in to a suburb with only a hedge separating them. “Steve” as Hammy suggests calling it, separates the group of animals from the world of suburbia. What’s most appealing about “Over the Hedge” is that its cast is perfect. There wasn’t one actor in this that I felt was just collecting a paycheck (ahem—Shark Tale), and they all have their time in the spotlight. Bruce Willis stars as RJ, a selfish raccoon, who despite the warnings of the group leader Verne (Gary Shandling giving a wonderful performance), gets them hooked on junk food and manipulates them into going outside and collecting food. The film is filled with great voice work by Wanda Sykes as an angry skunk, and Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as sweet porcupine parents.

But the characters who stuck out with me the most were William Shatner who is hilarious as the melodramatic Possum, whose put upon daughter, played by Avril Lavigne, puts up with him and his antics. And then there’s Hammy. Hammy is my favorite. And it’s helped by the fact that Steve Carrell voices him. Carrell’s career has really come into bloom despite some bumps and bruises, but Hammy is a character he embodies and just has a lot of fun with. Hammy, the hyper squirrel is just a laugh riot, and shows that you can be formulaic while being original, and that’s all thanks to Carrell who voices Hammy with intense enthusiasm and makes even the wildest innuendos (“Will you help me find my nuts?!”) into a hell of a catchphrase. But I know the kids will be saying “But I like the cookie” long after the movie is over. It’s a guarantee.

“Over the Hedge” is such a simple unspectacular film that doesn’t feel bloated with a big budget, and the story and characters are just so much fun to watch. I laughed out loud, I had a lot of fun, and I’m surprised. One caveat towards “Over the Hedge” though, is that beyond the three main characters Verne, RJ, or Hammy, the rest of the cast of characters remain only concepts with vague characterization. The porcupine parents really just stay one note characters, while the father and daughter possum are also relegated to a running gags throughout the film. They’re never focused on beyond their purpose, thus only the three main stars really feel like well fleshed out characters. Though the characterization beyond the main cast is vague, “Over the Hedge” is a surprisingly very good animated adventure that relishes in simplicity, yet is really very entertaining. With a great cast, a fun story, and gags that will have the adults and children in tears, I highly suggest this. Here I thought I was tired of talking animal cartoons.