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New DVD worth going ‘Over the Hedge’ for

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Aside from “Shrek,” DreamWorks has struggled to keep up in the animated movie arms race behind major powerhouses Disney and Pixar. With mild audience enthusiasm for last year’s “Madagascar,” DreamWorks came back with another animated animal movie that outdoes its predecessor. “Over the Hedge” is a delightful and entertaining film that is hard not to love with its fun storyline, excellent acting and gorgeous animation.

The basic premise of the movie follows RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis) as he tries to replace the large stash of food that he destroyed while trying to steal it from Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte). He only has one week to replenish the supply, or else he becomes food for the bear. He heads out to the suburb of El Rancho Camelot to get the job done.

On the way there he runs into a family of animals who have been hibernating all winter – Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling), Hammy the squirrel (Steve Carrell), Stella the skunk (Wanda Sykes), Ozzie the possum (William Shatner) and his daughter, Heather (Avril Lavigne), Lou the porcupine (Eugene Levy), his wife Penny (Catherine O’Hara) and their three kids. They discover that the new suburb has been built where much of their forest used to be, with only a hedge separating the wildlife from the suburbanites. RJ cons the animals into believing that they should steal the human food products as their food sources, without telling them that he will secretly be taking it all from them to pay back the bear.

Based on the “Over the Hedge” comic strips created by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, the movie works well on just about every level. Directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick created a film that is pleasant for all ages. It contains everything from references to such classic films as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Silence of the Lambs” to the silly, semi-violent humor expected in cartoons.

And as the latest trend is to insert some type of moral into cartoon movies (films like “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown”), “Over the Hedge” follows suit with plenty of commentary on consumerism, the expansion of suburbs and the everyday habits of people which seem odd to outsiders.

When RJ points out an SUV to the na’ve animals he says, “Humans drive around in them because they are slowly losing their ability to walk.” When one of the animals ask how many people ride in them, RJ replies, “Usually one.”

The cast also performs in great fashion. Willis is well-suited as the fast-talking con man as he leads the animals into the comical world of humans. Shandling is excellent as the whining turtle who is ultimately ousted by RJ as the leader of the group.

Although they are the lead roles in the movie, the supporting cast often steals the show. Carrell is perfect as the hyperactive squirrel who brings many of the low-brow laughs to the screen. Shatner does what only Shatner is able to do as the possum who melodramatically “plays possum” throughout the film.

The animation by the DreamWorks team is the best animation that they have produced since “Shrek.” A big part of why the film works so well is the character models they used to create the animal counterparts. They are fantastically well done, from their fur to the way they move. The character models have been deliberately tweaked to make them look a bit more cartoony, but there is so much realism in the animation of the film’s creatures that it is a delight to simply sit and watch them hop around the screen.

While not quite reaching the status of animated classic, “Over the Hedge” is a cute and clever little movie that gets on the screen, entertains, and then gets off. With its incredible cast and adorable animals, it is hard to not have a good time watching this film.