Computer technology has always had the advantage in animation when it comes to texture and three-dimensionality, and it is superb for physical properties like “shiny” and “bouncy,” but it has lagged behind hand-drawn when it came to expressions. “Over the Hedge” takes a big leap forward with computer animation that adds a delightful elasticity and verve to the characters’s “performances.”
Raccoon R.J. (voice of Bruce Willis), a brash scavenger, tries to steal the enormous pile of goodies that a big bear named Vincent (voice of Nick Nolte) had hidden away for a post-hibernation breakfast. When the food is destroyed, Vincent gives him one week to replace it all, including the red wagon and blue cooler. R.J., very much a loner, needs some help.
Waking up from their own hibernation nearby are Verne the turtle (voice of Garry Shandling), a sweet-natured porcupine family headed by Lou (voice of Eugene Levy) and Penny (voice of Catherine O’Hara), a highly excitable squirrel named Hammy (voice of Steve Carrell), a possum dad (voice of William Shatner) and daughter (voice of pop star Avril Lavigne), and an outspoken skunk named Stella (voice of Wanda Sykes).
R.J. arrives just as they learn that while they were sleeping, suburbia took over most of their woods. He tells them that this is very good news because people bring FOOD — and not just bark and berries. He introduces them to nacho chips and cookies and, despite Verne’s best efforts to persuade them to be cautious, there’s no turning back.
R.J. plans to teach the group to forage in human territory and then steal it all to give to Vince. But R.J. starts to have second thoughts when he begins to learn that he likes having friends. And the head of the new community’s homeowners’ association (voice of Allison Janney) hires an exterminator (voice of Thomas Hayden Church) to get rid of any animals that come through the hedge separating the houses from the woods.
The characters are clever and endearing and the script is fast and funny, keeping the focus on the story and avoiding the stream of pop-culture wisecracks that these days pass for humor in most animated films. Instead, the laughs come from the situations and the relationships. The voice talent is perfectly matched, especially Nolte’s growl, Sykes’ snap, and Carrell’s hyper but always piercingly sincere screech. One caveat is the mildly retro portrayal of the female characters. But with just the right balance of heart and comedy, this will be a pleasure for kids and their families.
Parents should know that this movie includes a good deal of peril and cartoon violence (no serious injuries) other than the zapping of a bug. There is some potty humor and schoolyard-style crude language (references to “licking privates” and “find my nuts”). A mother tells upset children to go watch television to calm down. The characters, appealing as they are and as much as we root for them, are stealing food, and parents may want to talk to kids about why that is wrong. While the movie has diverse characters, its retro attitude toward the females (one gets a makeover so she can use her “feminine wiles,” pretending to like another character as a way of distracting him) is something families may wish to discuss.
Families who see this movie should talk about the different ways the characters approach problems, from “playing possum” to lying and trying to exploit others to working together. They can also talk about what makes a leader. What made the others decide when they wanted to follow R.J. and when they wanted to follow Vern? What is important to you about a leader and when do you like to be a leader? And they should talk about the animals’ ideas about the role that food and television play in the lives of humans — and about the impact that junk food has on animals and on people.
Families who enjoy this movie should read the comic strip that inspired it. They should also go outside and see what creatures they might have been overlooking. What is the best way for humans and animals to live together? Families will also enjoy A Bug’s Life and look at the comic strip that inspired this film, which won the Religious Communicators Council’s 1998 Wilbur Award for “excellence in the communication of religious issues, values and themes.” And they will want to check out the difference between reptiles and amphibians.