Ever since computers have taken over, I've been unimpressed
with many of the movies that are churned out. Yes, there are some
exceptions, but mostly when human figures enter into the story,
the flaws bug me. I guess I'm a purist and I know that most of the
target audience for today's movies were just being born during the
last golden age of the hand-drawn feature films. I also have to say
that for the most part, the stories concocted that pass for plots also
leave a great deal to be desired. Recognizing that Disney has cornered
the market on the fairy tale adaptation and that Japanese anime
appeals to a select audience, I try to keep an open mind. For my
money, I would prefer the Plasticine figures of the Aardman films
to any CGI creations.

 Initially, I wasn't going to cover any animated films this
year for a variety of reasons, but things change. So in an effort to catch
up on what I'd already missed, I turned to my trusty friends at
Netflix
and ordered up OVER THE HEDGE. Now, I'll confess upfront, I am
not a fan of the daily comic strip of the same name which appears
here in New York City in the
New York Daily News. (One also may
access the strip online.) It's amusing enough I guess, but it doesn't
really tickle my funny bone. Which is why I was so surprised at how
much I responded to the feature film based on it.

 Now don't misunderstand, the computer animation of the
cuddly little critters isn't all that spectacular but there's a fairly
straightforward plot and a moral for the younger set. The adults
can enjoy the vocal efforts of actors like Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling,
Wanda Sykes, Steve Carrell, and others.

 The film opens with RJ (Willis), a raccoon stymied in his attempt
to steal food from a vending machine. Instead, he turns to the stash
of Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte) who is still in hibernation. RJ almost
gets away with stealing everything but in a moment of greed he
awakens the sleeping bear. Naturally, all of the bear's stash of food
is destroyed and it is up to RJ to replace it all within a week's time.
To accomplish this mission, he turns to a "family" of gatherers who
are also just coming out of hibernation: the turtle Verne (Shandling),
who serves as paterfamilias to a mixed group including the skunk
Stella (Sykes), the hyper squirrel Hammy (Carrell), a family of
porcupines (the parents are voiced by Eugene Levy and Catherine
O'Hara) and a father daughter team of possums (William Shatner and
Avril Lavigne). While they were in hibernation, big changes in the form
of a real estate development have occurred and their previously
pristine forest has now been reduced to a small amount of "greenery."
Separating the animals from the humans is the hedge.

 With RJ goading them on, the group attempt to raid the
human property to find enough food to store for winter -- with RJ
really planning to turn over the loot to Vincent. Naturally, things
don't go as smoothly as planned and there are a number of amusing
scenes where the animals and humans clash. The prime villainess is
Gladys (Alison Janney), the head of the development's homeowners'
association. She calls in an exterminator (Thomas Haden Church) and
the stage is set for a showdown.

 As I said, the actual animation doesn't achieve anything on
the level of say
SHREK or TOY STORY, but it is serviceable. I watched
the film with very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised
by its heart and its humor. Young children undoubtedly will enjoy
OVER THE HEDGE as well. The DVD has plenty of extras, including
a short film "Hammy's Bomerang Adventure," a sneak preview for
BEE MOVIE (set for 2007 release) and behind-the-scenes footage of
the actors, among other things.



                 Rating:                B
                 MPAA Rating:       PG for some rude humor and
                                                 mild comic action
                 Running time:      83 mins.



                                 Viewed on DVD
Over the Hedge
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.