Over the Hedge is a computer-animated film that’s high on culture and low on pop, but easily has the bubbliest feature-length fizz of its kind since The Incredibles.
Soda factors into the film on a few fronts — it’s the impetus for the most laugh-out-loud funny scene so far this year and also part of a cautionary message against gluttony and over-consumption.
That TV promo deal with Wal-Mart looks awfully strange, given the strong anti-consumerism slant of the film’s sly dialogue and the songs of Ben Folds, a perfect foil for the film’s sarcasm. (His rewrite of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” fires stronger shots than the original.) Both the endless entertainment of the film and the healthier-food tie-ins, though, ensure it’s subversive, not dubious.
This prequel to the comic strip is a thrown-together plot of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, and it’s the first DreamWorks animated movie to play out with Pixar prestige. Hedge opens with raccoon R.J. (Bruce Willis) upsetting big bad bear Vincent (Nick Nolte, an inspired choice) by stealing his mountain of food and causing its destruction. Given a week to replenish the supply or die, R.J. targets foraging animals freshly woken from hibernation to unknowingly assist him.
Led by timid turtle Verne (Garry Shandling), the group is stunned to find a hedge erected and, worse yet, a subdivision built in what used to be their forest. R.J. persuades them to steal suburbia’s junk food for their own quick-fix use. But even the streetwise R.J. doesn’t bank on the retaliation of a battle-axe homeowner (Allison Janney) and the “Verminator” (Thomas Haden Church).
Co-directed and co-written by Karey Kirkpatrick (the excellent Chicken Run), Hedge is rooted in its characters, all wonderfully voiced (Steve Carell’s hyperactive squirrel is the best sidekick since Donkey) and individually integrated into the plot. Madagascar and Chicken Little are fun, but this is the sort of richness that comes from stronger writing, not an endless barrage of soon-to-be-dated references, a Dr. Phil gag here aside.
Within several snappy action sequences, there is slight screed against today’s every-square-inch mindset; check out a mom’s calming suggestion to a freaked-out Girl Scout and the film’s bittersweet laughs from an under-attended dog. Like The Incredibles, it’s perhaps made more for adults, but not by nearly as wide a margin. With sharp, caffeinated writing, there are plenty of creature comforts to be found in Over the Hedge.