Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Over the Hedge"

Call it the W. effect. Just as our president likes to lower all expectations before going into any electoral battle, I had lowered my own quite a bit for "Over the Hedge." So I was much more than pleasantly surprised when it turned out to the first movie I have really liked in this so-far forgettable summer.

What little story there is focuses on a band of foraging animals led by a turtle named Verne (voiced with verve by Garry Shandling.) As they awake from their hibernation to again begin looking for food, they're greeted by a raccoon con-man named RJ (Bruce Willis) who, for his own selfish reasons, convinces our friends to go "Over the Hedge" and look for food in the world of human beings who inhabit the subdvision that has sprung up as they slept.

A fairly predictable story ensues, but "Over the Hedge" has a number of things that make it appealing anyway. First, the voices, led by Shandling, but abetted well by Wanda Sykes as a feisty skunk and William Shatner as the inevitably overmatched exterminator, have genuine personality.

Second, the whole thing has a manic energy that is contagious. Without any of the strobe-light. shaky-camera techniques used to hijack your interest by horror movie directors, the Dreamworks animation team manages to keep it all moving along very quickly and with a lot of fun. And if the sight of an exterminator's truck being piloted by three baby porcupines flying into and through a cookie-cutter house doesn't bring a smile to your face, why do you watch animated movies?

Finally, like Disney's "Chicken Little," it all looks fantastic. Unlike with "Chicken Little," however, I didn't feel stupider when it ended. With only a few jokes blatantly skewed at adults, "Over the Hedge" manages to pack in genuine laughs everyone will get.

A certain New York Times reviewer who shall remain nameless because I've picked on her here before and, well, I try to be a nice person, complained that the "message" of this movie, admittedly a fairly lame one about family, could have been so much more. What she apparently wanted was a treatise on the impact of man on nature and how we will eventually destroy the planet. Well, if that's what you want, there's apparently a new documentary about Al Gore. For those of us who like entertaining movies, luckily, there's fun stuff like "Over the Hedge."

The one glaring fault in "Over the Hedge" was the songs, which I guess are required in any animated movie. There's a "Family Guy" joke where Randy Newman, seated at his piano, watches Lois pull down an apple from a tree and take a bite out of it, then pens a play-by-play commentary to music: "She takes the apple from the tree, wipes it on her shirt; now she takes a bite of the apple." Well, Ben Folds, who wrote the treacle that passes for songs in "Over the Hedge," makes Newman sound like John Lennon.

That, however, is just a quibble about this otherwise surprisingly satisfying movie.

As I was in line, there was a mother and her three kids, ranging in ages from about 5 to 10 or so. I listened in as, one after another, they practically begged, "Mommy, can we see "Mission: Impossible?" "Mommy, can we see "Benchwarmers?" and "Mommy, can we see "Over the Hedge?" (clearly, the youngest of the brood was also the smartest.) When she got to the front of the line, mom said, "One adult and three children for "The Da Vinci Code." Poor kids.


odienator said...

and William Shatner as the inevitably overmatched exterminator, have genuine personality

William Shatner plays the William Shatner-esque possum whose daughter is played by fellow Quebecer Avril Lavigne. The exterminator is played by Thomas Hayden Church from Sideways.

I thought the songs were kinda cute. They are far better than the hideous song, "One Little Slip," that opens Chicken Little, a movie that, I must disagree with you, was horrendous enough to be #4 on my ten worsts list.

This is the first blockbuster movie of the summer I've enjoyed. It seems that even art movies like Art School Confidential are stinking worse than gym socks.

Re: that mother who took her kids to The Da Vinci Code: She should be arrested for child abuse. She should have just thrown her kids into traffic; it would have been less painful.

Devin said...

Hey, thanks for your comment on my review of this film. I like your review as well. What kind of parent takes their kids to see "The Da Vinci Code"?? I don't get people. (Maybe that's why I liked "Over the Hedge" so much.)

I would like to point out one error in your review. Thomas Haden Church was the voice of the exterminator, not William Shatner (who played the father possum).

Reel Fanatic said...

Ah ... thanks for the correction, readers ... Not sure how I got that mixed up ... I think the exterminator had a Shatneresque moment there at the end that got that in my head .. I have to remember to check the cast lists at IMDB!

Sleepless Mama said...

I like your review. I think I'll check out your others, too. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

cinefille said...

I definitely need to see "Over the Hedge" And those poor children.