Review by Mark Walters


OVER THE HEDGE is a comic strip created my Michael Fry and T. Lewis, which takes a funny look at suburban living through the eyes of forest animals.  It makes one wonder, what exactly do animals think when they see how we live our everyday lives.  Well... chances are they just want our scraps, but that's not the point.  Now their strip has been made into a feature film thanks to the folks at Dreamworks Animation, and it features some big name voice talent to boot.

 RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis!) is a raccoon who loves junk food.  A bag of chips is much more tempting to him than anything he might find in the woods.  But when he runs out of resources, RJ makes a desperate move trying to steal a large supply of snacks from a rather menacing bear named Vincent (voiced by Nick Nolte).  He piles them all on a wagon, and almost gets away with it, failing only because of his own greed.  When Vincent wakes during the attempted robbery, RJ really screws up and loses the wagon, which goes rolling down the hill right in front of an oncoming truck, which obliterate every last bit of the food.  So Vincent makes him a deal.  If RJ can replace everything before the bear's hibernation period ends, he'll let him live.  With time running out the intrepid raccoon finds a group of forest animals, led by a turtle named Vern (voiced by Garry Shandling).  The forest clan consists of a hyperactive squirrel named Hammy (voiced by Steve Carell), a skunk named Stella (voiced by Wanda Sykes), a father possum Ozzie (voiced by William Shatner) and daughter possum Heather (voiced by Avril Lavigne), and a family of porcupines parented by Lou (voiced by Eugene Levy) and Penny (Catherine O'Hara).  They've recently become perplexed by a seemingly never-ending hedge that was recently put up between the forest and large neighborhood houses.  Though these animals never attempt to interact with humans, RJ feels he can woo them with the promise of unlimited junk food, and encourages them to make a quest over the hedge into suburbia.  At first he has them convinced, but Vern doesn't like RJ, nor does he trust his motives.  To make matters worse the suburban watchdog Gladys (voiced by Allison Janney) is on to the animals hi-jinks, and goes so far as to hire a pest control expert named Dwayne (voiced by Thomas Haden Church) to deal with the newfound problem.  With the animals' safety now threatened, can Vern convince them to resist RJ's temptations before it's too late?

 This movie is so much fun it's shocking.  For starters, the voice casting is brilliantly done.  Each character is complemented perfectly with their voice over counterpart.  Whoever thought to cast Garry Shandling as a turtle deserves a big pat on the back.  Because the actors are so appropriate for each character, it really makes this an enjoyable ride.  As a kid's movie it's great too.  There are some meaningful lessons to be learned here, and they're presented in subtle but effective fashion.  Adults in the audience won't feel like anything is too heavy-handed, and that's a nice thing.  And the animation?  Excellent.  Not only do all of the animal characters look terrific, but the humans depicted in the film are very well done, just slightly exaggerated in their features to produce a good comic effect.  I found myself laughing in several scenes, and in one particular scene toward the end (which involves Hammy the squirrel) I was literally howling out loud.  This movie works on so many levels.  I enjoyed the comedy, and I enjoyed the emotional impact the events had on each animal.  It's handled so nicely I almost forgot the characters were animals.  There are a few jokes in there that are clearly geared toward adults, but it's not so bad that kids will be lost.  The underlying moral here is how important being part of family is.  By sticking together and being considerate of each other, these guys can accomplish anything.  Since RJ has never had that in his life, he must learn it first hand.

 The film is co-directed by Tim Johnson (who directed ANTZ and SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS) and Karey Kirkpatrick (who wrote screenplays for CHICKEN RUN and THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), and they prove themselves to be quite a team.  Being a big fan of traditional cel animation, I've had a hard time fully accepting computer animated films, but this is one I just couldn't resist.  It's flat out beautiful to look at, and a blast to sit through.  The movie doesn't resort to musical numbers, but does feature some nice Ben Folds songs, which complement the story rather well.  Every now and then you get a film like this that just works, and I sincerely hope people embrace it.  It's also cool to know that so many big name Hollywood types are willing to lend their voices to something like this.  Anytime you get that many egos in one room, it has to be a challenge, but in the end it certainly paid off.  With Disney and Pixar having such a tight hold on the animated movie market, it's nice to see that a company like Dreamworks can come along and knock one out of the park.  I hope they continue to produce animated features, and Tim and Karey should certainly be included whenever possible.  I'm also sure that Michael Fry and T. Lewis must be rather pleased, as their creation made the jump from comic strip to animated feature in fine form.  Coming from someone who knows a lot of people in both the comic book industry and comic strip field, that's not always an easy feat to accomplish.  This may not be the absolute best film of it's type, but it comes very close in my opinion.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give OVER THE HEDGE a 10.

Visit the official Dreamworks OVER THE HEDGE movie website by clicking here.

Over The Hedge
Over The Hedge
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