Over the Hedge
Fans of 90s TV comedy The Larry Sanders Show will be pleased, so far this year Rip Torn (Artie) has had the opportunity to shine in the art house drama 40 Shades of Blue (and Marie-Antoinette), while Larry himself (aka Garry Shandling, who played him) gets his biggest movie role yet in Over the Hedge.
That said, you might not recognise him: he's playing Verne, a wary turtle with a twitchy tail, the de facto leader of a mixed group of foragers. There's Stella, a skunk with low-esteem (Wanda Sykes); possums Ozzie and Heather (William Shatner and Avril Lavigne); porcupines Lou and Penny (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); and screwy squirrel Hammy (Steve Carell).
This unassuming extended family doesn't ask for much, just enough flora to feed them through the winter and a hollow log to call home. Waking up one spring, they're dismayed to find their forest circumscribed by a dense, straight edged shrub of apparently infinite width, a being they worship as 'Steve' until RJ raccoon (Bruce Willis) puts them straight. It's a hedge, he tells them. And on the other side of the hedge, there lies Suburbia, a place where human beings thoughtfully put out metal cylinders overflowing with surplus food.
There's something about RJ that sets Verne's tail twitching, but once the others have tasted cheesy nachos there's no stopping them. Danger or no danger, they're ready to start raiding - and let the chips fall where they may.
Based on the popular US comic strip, Over the Hedge is as handsome a piece of digital animation as you could ask for. Every bristle is in its place. And if its shtick you want, its shtick you will get, from the possum who plays dead at the merest hint of danger to the hyperactive squirrel, each creature gets his/her own quirky character feature.
So why did I struggle to keep my eyes open? Maybe because - despite its incessant busy-ness - the story is so underpowered. RJ needs to get a parcel of food together before the full moon to placate an angry bear (Nick Nolte) - but he doesn't tell his new companions why he needs their help. That's really about it, save for a nasty homeowner (Allison Janney) who hires an exterminator (Thomas Haden Church) to boobytrap her backyard.
It's not that Toy Story, A Bug's Life or Ice Age had much more in the way of plot, but at least those movies bothered to invest in their characters - they played fair with the physical logic of their own imaginary micro-worlds - but Over the Hedge feels like it out-sourced its story department to a computer pre-programmed with these modern hits, but with no further conception of human (or animal) interaction.
Action sequences don't really belong, but have obviously been shoehorned in to keep the kids happy. Even the film's liveliest moments feel rehashed. (The sense of déjà vu is exacerbated by the tendency to rerun every gag at least twice.) If the satire of junk food over-consumption is somewhat half-baked, it is at least a gesture towards the older appendages in the family audience, and Dreamworks deserve some kudos for resisting the numerous product placement opportunities - a welcome turnaround from the company that produced Shark Tale. Even if it's no classic, Over the Hedge is a big improvement on that turkey.
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