Over the Hedge
Over the Hedge, the latest computer-animated offering from DreamWorks, is a fast-paced and silly 80 minutes of lightweight family entertainment. Based loosely on the popular comic strip of the same name, the film is populated with a loveable cast of goofy animal characters, voiced uniformly well by a variety of big-name actors. It is more successful prat-falling than moralizing, but it manages to stay engaging for kids and adults alike right through the end credits.
RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) is a food-obsessed raccoon living near an interstate campsite. His proximity to humans (and their trash) has afforded him the opportunity to develop a potato-chip addiction so severe he is willing to risk life and limb in order to steal the winter larder of a hibernating bear named Vince (a menacing Nick Nolte). The bear awakens, a struggle ensues, and the bounty of saturated fats and preservatives (human junk food) is lost in an unfortunate cliff incident. Vince spares RJ's life only on the condition that the raccoon replace every morsel of stolen food within a week.
RJ knows he cannot come close to amassing the required provisions on his own. He is wandering through the woods pondering his demise when he comes across a group of foragers just stirring from their winter sleep. Verne the Turtle (Gary Shandling) is the cautious and kind leader of an odd little community of critters, including Hammy the hyperactive Squirrel (Steve Carell), a possum father and daughter (William Shatner and Avril Lavigne), a family of lovable, down-home porcupines (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), and a no-nonsense skunk named Stella (a perfectly-cast Wanda Skyes).
The animals discover a strange, foreboding object intersecting their forest and, despite their decision to name it "Steve," retreat in fear until RJ explains that the new apparition is a hedge. The freshly formed subdivision on the other side represents a foreign threat to the forest-dwellers, but RJ sees a golden opportunity. It takes only minimal snack exposure to hook the awestruck animals on the food humans keep in "gleaming silver cans" outside their homes. (Even the wary Verne has to admit that tree bark has nothing on the "magical combination of corn flour, dehydrated cheese solids, BHA, BHT and good old MSG" that makes nacho cheese chips irresistible.) RJ realizes with relief and glee that it will be easy to con his naïve new friends into unwittingly helping him acquire enough groceries to satisfy a homicidal bear.
What ensues is an epic struggle between animals and suburbanites, with the latter being represented by a couple of caricatured humans: Gladys, a shrill Homeowner Association President (Dictator) voiced by Allison Janney (The West Wing), and The Verminator, a militant exterminator brought to life by a delightfully over-the-top Thomas Haden Church. The battle culminates in a brilliantly funny action sequence featuring an extremely caffeinated Hammy the Squirrel. (Star Trek aficionados say the scene is inspired by an infamous episode entitled "Wink of an Eye," but it's hilarious with or without knowledge of the Trekkie connection.) Along the way Wanda gets a makeover and a Pepé Le Pew-inspired romance with a house cat named Tiger (Omid Djahili), the porcupine children get to drive a car, and RJ gets to learn the true meaning of family.