Over the Hedge

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Review #129 of 365
Film: Over the Hedge [PG] 83 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $7.00
Where Viewed: AMC Loews Meridian 16, Seattle, WA
When 1st Seen: 20 May 2006
Time: 9:00 p.m.

Ben Folds - Over the Hedge (Music from the Motion Picture)

Animated films are really making a showing this year as the genre moves from special treat four or five times a year to double or triple that figure. Unfortunately, this causes numerous obvious ripple effects: (1) the films become automatically less special, (2) the volume of material to be used as storylines dwindles, (3) the volume of material to which they can be compared increases, (4) comparing them to live action films becomes more justifiable, and (5) box office revenues decline per film due to increased competition. Is it just me, or does it seem like every one of these ripples is a bad thing?

Well, unless your name is Disney-Pixar®, you start off having a lot to prove in the genre right now. Despite the success of Shrek and Shrek 2, when the first frames light up the screen, the anticipation to be good let alone great is high. If this film were only it’s first sequence, Over the Hedge, would have probably been a great short action animated film. Since, in my opinion, it is the best part of the film, I won’t give it away here. The rest of the film co-directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick, however, will be fair game. So, the first sequence introduces us to an exquisitely animated, 'adorable', little raccoon named RJ and voiced to perfection by Bruce Willis who gets himself, of course, in a spot of trouble. Basically, he’s got to come up with a ton of food to repay an angry, awakened-to-soon-from-hibernation bear. To solve his problem he stumbles upon two essential, key ingredients: a ‘multi-speciel’—many species—family of foragers including 2 possums, 5 porcupines, 1 hyper-speedy squirrel, a skunk, and a non-scientifically correct, shell-removable turtle (note on turtle later); and a new subdivision of Malvina Reynolds-inspired “Little boxes made of ticky tacky…Little boxes all the same” inhabited by food-worshipping Homo sapiens. Now, if he can only ‘Tom Sawyer’ them into voyaging over the ultra-scary, newly-installed mega-hedge to gather the food for him, he’ll be set. [See the title makes sense—they have to go Over the Hedge.]

"Over the Hedge would have been a great short action animated film."
Now, breaking this down…
One thing that is evident is that the quality of computer animated films just keeps on getting better and better by the film. The animals in the film, the scenery, everything is lush, perfect, crisp, clear. I would love to see Snow White (oh the horror of the thought, but seriously, I would) re-done in CGI. I cannot imagine how fierce it would look. The technology is absolutely unreal. It is wild to watch the credits (and you should stay for the whole sequence if you see the film because there is a segment following the credits which is clever and ties the film up) and see the number of engineers and technology people involved in the creation of one of these films. No wonder NASA is having a hard time finding rocket scientists, they are all going to work for the animated movie industry and probably making more money and enduring less stress than worrying about astronauts getting caught and freezing to death on the other side of the moon. Well, this animation team has created a brilliant band of characters (minus some stereotyping) that are clever, amusing, funny, and adorable. Each is given a moment or two, at least, to shine. The voice actors from William Shatner (Ozzie), Avril Lavigne (Heather), and Nick Nolte (Vincent) to Allison Janney—as the wicked human president of the homeowners association, Eugene Levy (Lou), Garry Shandling (Verne—the turtle), and Steve Carell (Hammy), all did splendid jobs bringing their characters to life. I wonder how long it is until they too are replaced with computer-synthesized voices? Or do you think they will always use real people for the voices to keep the SAG off their backs? In summary, the animation and voice talent was awesome.

So, this takes us to the rest of the story. Well, the rest of the story, is as Randy Jackson would say, “just okay, not great for me, dawg.” I love the way, by the way, that Mr. Jackson and Paula Abdul find a way to say something nice while also hedging a bit in saying that something just wasn’t very good. The problem with the story of Over the Hedge is, in fact, that there are a lot of good things in it. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of not so good things. When people make a movie for kids, and this is certainly pitched at kids, I feel there is some sort of moral obligation to take great caution in certain areas. There can be scary villains, but they should not be overdone. Here are two examples of where Over the Hedge overdoes two villainous things.
  1. The aforementioned bear says to RJ, get my food or “I’m going to kill you.” Yes, he used the K-word. I thought that was pretty much a taboo word for movies pitched at young kids. It was very disturbing and shocking at the time when he said it swiping at him with his very sharp claws. This bear, also, by the way, grips RJ by the head clamping him between two of his claws in a rather tortuous way that also made me quite uncomfortable even as a grown up. I don't think kids need to or want to see little animals tortured, even by other animals, even in make-believe cartoons.
  2. The aforementioned president of the homeowner’s association, Gladys, is rendered along the lines of great Disney villains such as the witch in Sleeping Beauty who gave me nightmares for years. This woman is just horrendously shallow, stereotypical, and probably an affront to homeowner association presidents everywhere. However, worse, is that she hires an exterminator called the Verminator to come and cleanse her neighborhood of these trespassing animals stealing food and making a mess of the her yard. She and he then set up an amazing array of animal-torture devices all of which are fantastically nasty and horrible creations the likes of which would even impress Edward Scissorhands. Still even worse, at one point, she asks that the animals be killed in a non-humane way to exact her revenge with this crazy, maniacal look in her eyes.
I have no clue what the team of scriptwriters (Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, and Karey Kirkpatrick) were thinking when they came up with this stuff, but it was way, way, way over the top for kids. I don’t know what message or morals they were trying to teach here. Boiling it down, we have animals whose woods have been cut in half by a new subdivision creeping into people’s homes to steal food for a con-artist raccoon and the humans retaliating with blood-thirsty exterminators? Again, as I wrote, I believe 100% that when you pitch a movie at kids, you have to think about these things. What are you trying to teach them? Because, kids are learning. That’s what they do. All the time, for every waking minute, they are absorbing things, building their moral foundations, and learning right from wrong. I cannot figure out what they were supposed to learn from this. It was too scary, way over the top in really disturbing villainy, and I would urge strong caution for anyone planning to take children under the age of 11 to this film. Now, that said, RJ, of course, does learn a lesson not to use people to get out of your own sticky situations and the value of having a family. These were good lessons, but the way he learns them and the extremes that are gone to to teach these lessons, was a heavy price to pay. I definitely would not consider this film the best way to teach these lessons.

In summary, Over the Hedge is a technological masterpiece with a story that’s just too Over-the-Top for young kids and probably not funny enough to keep grown ups engaged for more than 13 minutes.

Finally, this is just a pet (no pun intended) peeve of mine. Turtles cannot pop out of their shells like hermit crabs. The shell is an integral part of the body of a turtle. For a film that went to such great lengths to ensure that everyone who sees the film will know that turtles are reptiles and not amphibians, why would it then proceed to give the very wrong impression that turtles can come out of their shell, be lying their 'naked', and even give their shell to somebody else? Simply incongruous.

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