Judge Mitchell Hattaway once found raccoons in his trash. But they were not cute, performed no musical numbers, and he is pretty sure they ate one of his cats.
Get over it.
Don't even ask about the cork.
Facts of the Case
After accidentally destroying the food stash of a hibernating grizzly bear, a wily raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis, 16 Blocks) cons a group of kindly, trusting woodland creatures into venturing over an expansive hedge, invading the newly-constructed subdivision on the other side, and raiding the refuse of the neighborhood's gluttonous human residents.
After spinning their wheels since the release of Shrek, the folks at Dreamworks have finally come up with another worthwhile piece of CG entertainment; the movie's writers and directors have taken the basic premise of Michael Fry and T. Lewis's same-named comic strip and crafted a fun, funny movie. And, thankfully, they don't beat you over the head with the story's message of belonging.
Given that the story doesn't exactly mine new territory, it's more than a bit surprising that most of the gags and jokes (many of which are lifted straight from the strip) don't come off as stale. The punchline to RJ's comments about the SUV, while fairly obvious, is funny (to say nothing of true). You get the requisite number of jokes about Hammy's nuts (Hammy being a hyperactive squirrel), although not quite as many as the filmmakers had originally intended. The gag regarding the number of trip-beams in the backyard of the head of the local homeowner's association works simply because it builds and builds until it blows past absurdity and enters a new realm of its own creation. There are several great set-pieces, including RJ's lecture on the culinary avarice of mankind, RJ and Verne's gas grill-induced launch into orbit (Verne being the not-quite-as-meek-as-he-seems turtle who finds his leadership usurped by RJ), and Hammy's caffeine-induced heroics during the big climax. And speaking of Hammy, that bit where he shoots the aerosol cheese out his nose got played to death in the movie's previews, but I still found myself laughing at it.
The voice acting is pretty much perfect. In addition to Willis, you get Garry Shandling (What Planet Are You From?) as Verne, and William Shatner (Miss Congeniality) as Ozzie, a possum with a penchant for overacting during his numerous near-death experiences (ah, typecasting). Steve Carell (Bruce Almighty) gives voice to Hammy, and Wanda Sykes (Down to Earth) gets many of the best lines as Stella, a sarcastic skunk. Heck, even pop-punk princess (ha!) Avril Lavigne's tired disaffected teenager persona is put to good use as Heather, Ozzie's daughter. And then there's Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) as Dwayne, a dim-bulb, deadpan exterminator called in to rid the subdivision of its new four-legged residents (as is usually the case, many of his best lines appear to have been ad-libbed).
The animation here represents some of the best "critter" work yet attempted in a CG feature. The supplements make it clear that the animators sweated over the task ahead of them (fur isn't easy to pull off in the digital realm), but their efforts certainly paid off. There's a decidedly unique look to the fur of each character, and their pelts move and react in distinct fashions. I don't think the Dreamworks animators are working on the same level as the Pixar people, but they're running a very respectable second in the CG animation race.
I would venture to guess the transfer was created straight from the original digital files, as it's darn near perfect. The colors are spot-on, the amount of detail stunning. The audio is just as impressive. Bass is deep and tight, dialogue is always clear, and surround action is plentiful and immersive. Extras include a very good commentary from co-directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick and producer Bonnie Arnold, a featurette devoted to the time and technology required to bring the movie to fruition, a featurette detailing the movie's origins and development, and a featurette focusing on the cast. There's also an amusing infomercial for the Verm-Tech Institute (the school from which Thomas Haden Church's character graduated), galleries featuring concept art and storyboards, interactive games, a Hammy drawing tutorial from one of the animators, a featurette featuring facts about the animals featured in the movie, previews for other Dreamworks/Paramount releases, and some kid-friendly DVD-ROM content. Last, but by no means least is Hammy's Boomerang Adventure, a very funny new short (with optional commentary) chronicling the misadventures of Hammy as he futilely attempts to rid himself of a boomerang.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I mentioned earlier, I do have a couple of problems with the movie. First off, the sequence during which RJ introduces himself to his future comrades and then begins to set his plan in motion brings the story's momentum to a dead halt (although the way he finally convinces them to join his cause is one of the best sight gags in the movie). Sure, such a sequence is necessary, but this one drags on and on, following the same beats as similar scenes we've all seen a thousand times before. And there are moments when the large number of characters becomes a problem; you can practically see the writers struggling to give everyone (particularly the porcupines) something to do.
These CG funny animal flicks have become a dime a dozen over the past few years, but Over the Hedge is easily one of the better ones.
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