10. Over the Hedge (2006)

2006 is kind of a year lost in the ether for DreamWorks, with two films that didn’t perform incredibly well and are pretty much forgotten to most. That certainly isn’t to say that they’re bad, just to say they didn’t break bank. This film is based upon a comic strip of which I’d never heard of about woodland critters and their culture clash with suburbia. We start with miscreant loner raccoon RJ in the midst of swindling an entire wagon full of human-manufactured goodies from hibernating bear Vincent. When he wakes him and the foodstuffs end up destroyed, Vincent gives RJ an ultimatum: reproduce all of the food in a week’s time, or he’ll have to eat him instead. RJ goes off to find help for this nigh impossible task, and finds it in the form of a simpleton woodland community who is shocked to find an entire suburban neighborhood had been erected during their hibernation. RJ exploits their naivety with alluring junk food and the sensationalist knick-knacks of the humans to help cart off all the eats, while their meek, cautious leader, Verne the turtle, remains hesitant. It isn’t long of course before RJ starts to warm up to the other animals and feels guilty for using them, but with the end of the week looming, and the humans incensed by their neighborhood being ransacked, he must figure a way out of his own mess.
Amidst the predictable, overplayed elements we’ve seen many a time involving the hotshot newcomer slowly gaining humility and the value of friendship, the overall story here is actually kind of interesting. The best parts of the film come from RJ regaling the other animals with the human world, from how he sees it, like humans driving SUVs because they’re slowly losing their ability to walk. The highlight comes with a fantastic montage of him explaining how human life revolves around the acquiring, devouring and ultimately wasting of food; it’s an unusually intriguing sequence, it makes a whole lot of sense on the surface, and as what an animal would think of looking upon the humans. Also great is the mild vilification of mass production and packaging; these small-forest rubes used to eating bark and twigs have their minds blown by mere nacho cheese flavoring, and before long they’re hooked on a diet of powdered donuts and caffeinated soda. It’s played more as light gags than actually bearing on the plot, but I kinda like that they did that, though probably slightly disingenuous since I’m sure they slapped these characters’ faces on fruit roll ups and cookie boxes.
The film tells a simple story very well, but that’s also slightly to its detriment. The concept of woodland creatures combating with suburbia feels so rich but almost feels underutilized. The critters wreck havoc on the humans, and in turn they are getting destroyed by fatty, sugary snacks. Granted that’s a bit more dramatic, and the film certainly isn’t going to cry foul on any junk food given how much marketing money comes in through those companies, but when you introduce those topics, I’m inevitably going to be hungry for more. Going along with this, being so simple means it ends up being none too memorable. There’s some amusing moments and inspired bits to be sure, but nothing that I’d really point out and say was completely extraordinary. Visually it’s typically DreamWorks, with a few extreme takes and animation flourishes, and the suburban world is lusciously laid out, alternatively clean and pristine, and large and harrowing. Everything hits their mark, but very few elements seem to go above that point.
DreamWorks’ stunt casting is as prevalent as ever, but thankfully no actor slips below the level of “unnecessary.” Like you have Wanda Sykes playing the skunk, who is basically written like Wanda Sykes, aka sassy and indignant. Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling are just fine as the leads, pulling off their emotional moments effectively. Standing out to me are the three antagonists: Nick Nolte as Vincent is perfect since he sounds like a grizzly bear anyway, Alison Janey is the irritable and insane head of the home-owners assocation, a lady so mad with power she punches out some cops in the end, and Thomas Haden Church as the creepily dedicated exterminator, a character I wish we’d seen more of. Also notable is William Shatner as a possum with a penchant for dramatic over-acting, the one particularly inspired bit of casting. Also featured is music by Ben Folds, some original songs and some old ones, including a G-rated “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” I love me some Ben Folds, and he’s a welcome addition in orchestrating the beats of this sweet story.
Final Verdict
It’s cute, it’s amusing, it’s entertaining for what it is… and that’s about it. I put this at a dead heat with Madagascar; while that film had a striking visual style and some dementedly funny moments, at least this one actually has a story, and some interesting plot elements to it. Both are effectively disposable, but if I had to pick one to watch again… I think I’d go with Hedge. I was more entranced with its innocence, as opposed to the crude, slightly uncomfortable insanity of Madagascar.

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2 responses to “10. Over the Hedge (2006)

  1. I’d highly recommend reading the original comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis. In addition to being funny as hell, all the under-explored themes of the movie are delved into much more in the strip, and the visual style is really neat (this is one of those instances where I wish a DreamWorks movie had been animated traditionally, because the lush hand-drawn look of the strip really can’t be replicated in CGI.) Check it out: http://www.gocomics.com/overthehedge

    As for the movie itself, it’s funny enough, but as is par for the course for DreamWorks, they’re content to trot out a story that everyone’s heard a kajillion times before. It’s an okay film, but knowing how good the comic strip is, I can’t shake the feeling that the movie could have been a lot better.

    • I flipped through a bunch of them after I watched the movie, I thought they were pretty good. Actually Michael Fry just followed me on Twitter and I feel bad for saying I never heard of the comic…

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