Release Date:  May 19, 2006
Rating:  PG (for some rude humor and comic action)
Genre:  Cartoon, Family
Run Time:  90 min.
Directors:  Tim Johnson, Karey Kirtpatrick
Actors (Voices):  Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell, Thomas Hayden Church, Nick Nolte, William Shatner, Wanda Sykes, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Allison Janney, Omid Dajlili

As the field of computer-animated family films widens, and more studios jump into the fray to separate parents from their money, no longer is every CGI movie worth your time.  Kids are less discriminating when it comes to plot and characters, and their poor parents must often suffer through some of the most asinine entertainment.

But once in a while a good "family movie" arrives on the scene, usually from Pixar Studios, that provides good clean family entertainment for kids without torturing the adults who plunked down hard-earned cash to make the outing possible. Even though measured against Pixar soon-to-be classics like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, Over the Hedge will come up wanting, its fun characters make for a likable film.

Based loosely on the comic strip of the same name, Over the Hedge tells the story of a small band of hibernating animals that awake from a long winter's nap to discover an enormous hedge running through their forest. On the other side of this hedge lies the latest section of newly built suburbia in all its gleaming newness. R.J. (Bruce Willis), a worldly-wise raccoon with his own agenda, happens upon the stunned critters and begins offering them ‘advice' about their new situation. They no longer need to worry about spending their summer gathering nuts and berries for the long winter. Their new human neighbors will now provide them everything they need in the shiny metal cans that sit outside their houses.

At first the group decides they don't need what the humans have, preferring instead their standard forest fare. But after some persistence from R.J., they taste, in the form of a nacho cheese chip, what suburbia has to offer. Who would have thought Doritos taste better than wild berries and tree bark? Soon they decide they can't live without human food and allow R.J. to lead them into the uncharted backyards to learn a new way of survival, much to the chagrin of the group's de facto leader, a turtle named Vern (Gary Shandling). Your typical slapstick "animals and people don't mix" mayhem ensues. Of course the locals, in the form of homeowners association president Gladys (Allison Janney) and the "Verminator" (Thomas Hayden Church), don't take kindly to animal intruders and plot their demise.

Unbeknownst to the wide-eyed forest creatures, smoothing talking R.J. is using the gang to procure payment for his own debt to Vincent (Nick Nolte), a bear that R.J. has stolen from. The thieving band soon amasses a great pile of goodies, gathering much more than the food (as well as other niceties like video games and camping equipment) they need to survive. Lessons abound here about the problems of consumerism and excesses of stereotypical suburban life. Fortunately, they are not so heavy handed that it takes us out of the movie. All lessons about the value of friends and family over material things are learned.

Both Willis and Shandling turn in solid performances as the movie's leads. But it is the supporting cast that steals the show with the funniest dialogue. Although it seems like every one of these animal CGI movies has a some sort of "squirrel on speed" character (i.e. Skrat from Ice Age and Twitchy from Hoodwinked), Steve Carrell's Hammy has some of the films funniest moments - including a scene where we get to see what happens when you give a squirrel a caffeinated beverage. William Shatner, who I am now convinced must have a great sense of humor, plays the possum Ozzie as a stereotype of his own dramatic Captain Kirk persona, complete with an over-the-top, theatrical "playing possum" scene. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara are delightful as the porcupine parents who sound like the just arrived from Minnesota.

The final escapade is both clever and side-splitting. Vern conquers his jealously and reservations about R.J, while R.J. decides to save his friends rather than his own skin. The two lead their family to safety against a blood-thirsty bear, a crazed homeowner, and a slightly psychotic exterminator with a bad comb-over.

You could say that Over the Hedge is predictable, but in the end that doesn't really matter. It's cute, laugh-out-loud funny, and can be enjoyed on many levels. If early Dreamworks CGI films were problematic for you, if you thought the Shrek  films overdid the bathroom humor, or Madagascar was too bland, then Over the Hedge is the movie for you.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language:  R.J. tells the gang if they are seen by a human (while sneaking into suburbia) to lick their privates. Hammy the squirrel has a few lines about his "nuts" ("Want me to show you what I do with my nuts?" and "I found my nuts!" for example), referring to the fact that he is gathering acorns for the winter. These comments will probably go over the head of young children, but adults will recognize the double entendre.

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  • Violence:  Slapstick cartoon violence. Some of the sequences involving Vincent the bear will be frightening to young children. Humans mean to harm the animals in several inhumane ways. One of the animals gets kicked down a flight of stairs.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Vern the turtle is constantly losing his shell, in one scene his backside is exposed.

  • Religion:  When the animals first encounter the hedge, they think it is something to be worshiped.  People are briefly shown praying before a meal; R.J. explains they are worshipping their food.