Directed by: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
Starring: Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte
As a gleeful Dad said to me after a Saturday afternoon screening of Over the Hedge, "That was one cute movie! " Very cute. Lovable characters, wildly original slapstick routines, tearful heart tuggings, and most surprisingly, life-or-death dilemmas and environmental messages that will withstand repeated at-home viewings. While it doesn't attain the mythic appeal of Finding Nemo (nothing ever has, and I should stop moaning about it), Over the Hedge is light years beyond recent animated tales such as Madagascar and Chicken Little.
RJ, the rascally raccoon (voice of Bruce Willis), is as determined to snatch a free meal as his distant cousin, the scrawny, acorn-obsessed squirrel in Ice Age. He rappels up the side of a mountain into the den of Vincent (Nick Nolte), a sleepy black bear, who is none too pleased to catch RJ stealing his stash of junk food. Vincent gives the RJ an offer he can't refuse -- the raccoon must replenish the bear's pantry by the next full moon -- or he'll end up as the bear's breakfast.
Meanwhile, a family of foragers awakens from their comfy wintry log home. Their den leader is Vern (voice of Garry Shandling), a cautious tortoise. The clan consists of Hammy (voice of Steve Carell), the hyperactive squirrel; Stella (voice of Wanda Skykes), a skunk who hasn't found her inner swan yet; a family of porcupines; and my favorite, Ozzie (William Shatner), a fatherly possum who has taken the dramatic art of faking his death to Shakespearean dimensions. While they were all happily hibernating, a suburban housing development sprung up, trapping them by a high hedge that cuts them off from their regular supply of nutritious nuts and berries.
Urged on by RJ, the critters discover the guilty pleasures beyond the hedge -- an unlimited supply of junk food that greedy pink primates seem to adore. There's pizza and cheese-squeezes, caffeine-laced soft drinks, cookies galore and, most notably, golden triangle chips filled with BHA, BHT and MSG (yum, yum -- one taste and it's instant addiction). But there are terrors, too: a nasty homeowners association president, a "verminator" who's seen Mission Impossible too many times, a fierce puppy and rotten little kids who poke and kick.
The animals must figure out how to acquire the food without getting tricked, trapped or zapped. And then they find out that they've been duped by RJ, who intends to hand over all their food to the bear. Oh dear. Is there no hope for interspecies trust anymore?
Never fear, Over the Hedge knows the familiar formula: Add natural wiles to furry-tailed spunk, mix in singable songs, string it all together with riotous action in eye-popping color, punctuate it with crowd-pleasing belching, top it off with the usual friends-again hugs at the end -- and the world is safe for all families once more. Rated PG for some rude humor and mild comic action.
-- reviewed by Marcianne Miller