Over the Hedge (2006) / Animation-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for rude humor and mild violence
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast (voices): Bruce WIllis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Thomas Haden Church, Allison Janney, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Avril Lavigne
Director: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
Screenplay: Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Karey Kirkpatrick
Review published May 27, 2006

Admittedly, after not being terribly impressed with the latest crop of 3D animated features, especially the ones that contain characters that are a motley crew of cute animals with distinct personalities, my expectations for Over the Hedge were that it would be just another forgettable, derivative film that only a young child could truly enjoy.  I'm happy to say that isn't, and what's more, some parents might even come away liking it more than their kids due to many in-jokes aimed at the older members of the audience.  Granted, it takes more than in-jokes to keep adults entertained, but in Over the Hedge these jokes actually turn out to be consistently funny, which about sums up why this latest entry into the new dominant genre of family film is successful -- it is surprisingly smart and witty.

The film is based on the popular syndicated comic strip of the same name, which featured a raccoon named RJ and turtle named Verne having to face the harsh realities of life when their natural habitat is being taken over by humans dwelling in newly developed property which we all know commonly as the suburbs.  The film differs a bit in origin and execution, with RJ the raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis, 16 Blocks) going into the human community in order to restore the wealth of food he stole and lost from a hungry bear named Vincent (Nolte, Hotel Rwanda).  On his way to the big score, RJ befriends a group of animals in the wooded area outside of the housing development, and together, they all conspire to find ways of getting their favorite foods from the homes and gardens of the people that have invaded their homeland.  Meanwhile, Gladys Sharp (Janney, "The West Wing"), the president of the local homeowners association has decided to eradicate the woodland creatures invading their homes, hiring a "Verminator" named Dwayne (Church, Sideways) to handle all the ugly business of wiping them out for good.

Excellent animation, superb voice work, and well developed characterizations bolster this family film outing into one of the more attractive releases of its type this year.  However, what really sets the film apart is the amount of good humor within.  While other films of this type are content merely to be cute, or go for toilet humor, for most of the laughs, the screenwriters behind Over the Hedge actually give their characters funny things to do and say, putting the film a cut above the others of its ilk in an earnest delivery of well-executed entertainment.

If there is a downside to the film, it's that such a wealth of talent has been amassed in order to make a very good example of a conventional 3D animated feature, rather than try a new, never-before-seen approach.  I suppose the high budget of these kinds of movies is inhibitive on the ability to be truly daring, and I suppose it's difficult to complain too much, given the fact that similar 3D features like Madagascar, The Wild, and Chicken Little fell quite short of the mark in terms of providing entertainment for the whole family and choice bits of laughter.  At only 83 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, making this a fast, funny, and sometimes even socially aware form of family entertainment, refreshingly adept despite its outward similarities to nearly every other 3D feature to have come out in the last year or two.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo