Toon Talk, From the Other Side: Over the Hedge
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by Kirby C. Holt
Over the Hedge
MPAA Rating: PG
Imagine you awaken one day to find that the happy home of you and yours has been reduced to a fraction of its original size, your natural food supplies have been compromised and - worst of all - your new neighbors, living it up on the other side of a great green wall, are a bunch of lazy giants, gorging themselves on an endless supply of fatty, greasy, sugar-coated goodies. It is enough to make even the most sensible of turtles retreat into the calm environs of his shell.
Such is the scenario for DreamWorks Animation's latest computer animated comedy, Over the Hedge (now in theaters). Based on the popular, long-running comic strip of the same name (by writer Michael Fry and artist T. Lewis), Hedge is a rollicking, fast-paced comic adventure with plenty of laughs and even a little well-earned heart, a far cry from the studio's usual fare of Madagascar-size loud- and lewdness.
But before we get to that turtle, we meet R.J. (voiced by former John McClane, Bruce Willis), a wily and resourceful raccoon who gets on the bad side of a behemoth of a bear (Nick Nolte, his natural growl serving him well here) when he is caught making off with the burly bruin's mountainous stash of sweet and salty snacks. When all that grub is destroyed, R.J. has exactly one week to repay in full with more food or ... his life.
Enter said turtle, Verne (former Larry Sanders, Garry Shandling), the practical patriarch of a "familyâ€? of forest foragers, including Hammy (former 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carell), a hyper squirrel; Stella (Wanda Sykes, soon to be heard in Brother Bear 2), a skunk with self-esteem issues; Ozzie (William Shatner, following The Wild with this, his second animated feature of the year), an overly-dramatic possum, and Heather (mope rock singer Avril Lavigne), his eternally-embarrassed daughter; plus a pack of porcupines (by way of Minnesota, by the sounds of it, you betcha) lead by mom and pop'upine, voiced by frequent Guest stars Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy. This loving, mixed-breed family finds their tiny world turned upside down when, upon waking up from their long winter's nap (i.e., hibernation), find that a huge human housing development has taken over their habitat.
Taking advantage of the situation, R.J. steps in, offering his services to the panicked group as tour guide through the sprawling suburbia, secretly hoping to get them to do all the food-gathering work for him. What follows is the one sequence in the film that most closely matches the sardonic edge of the original comic strip, R.J.'s hilarious deconstruction of the food-obsessed race known as Homo sapiens, a species that thinks nothing of throwing away all the good stuff, prompting lots of trashcan tippings and picnic raids.
The rest of the gang takes to R.J. as their sustenance-offering savoir, leaving neurotic Verne on the outside (shades of the Woody/Buzz dynamic in Toy Story). Further complications arise when Gladys (voiced by The West Wing's Allison Janney), the uptight home owner's association president (sporting a cell phone glued to her ear while driving a sleek SUV - license plate "GLADY$$â€?) hires Dwayne (Sideways' Thomas Hayden Church, in the Patrick Warburton role), a gung-ho-yet-dim-bulb exterminator who calls himself the "Verminatorâ€?, to rid her "kingdomâ€? of our woodland heroes. And then that nasty bear shows up ...