Offering little in the way of sophistication or memorable characters, the disappointingly pedestrian computer-animated "Over the Hedge" will be more entertaining for little tykes than their older siblings and parents, and would not seem out of place on Saturday morning television.
Based on the comic strip of the same name by Michael Fry and T Lewis, the movie actually functions as back story, chronicling the meeting of its main characters: RJ, an independent-minded raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis, and Verne, an overly cautious turtle, voiced by Garry Shandling.
Spring has not yet sprung and RJ has already gotten himself into trouble with Vincent (Nick Nolte), a hibernating bear. In trying to steal Vincent's winter stash of junk food, RJ not only wakes up the not-so-gentle giant but also manages to lose the load of Spuddies and other vending machine favorites in the process. Gruff-voiced Vincent gives him seven days to replace it all.
In another part of the wilderness, a small band of critters is waking up from its own hibernation in a log. The improbable menagerie includes a fleet-of-foot but slow-of-mind squirrel named Hammy (Steve Carell); Stella, an attitudinal skunk (Wanda Sykes); father and daughter possums Ozzie and Heather (William Shatner and Avril Lavigne); a family of porcupines (headed by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); and Verne, their timid leader. To their dismay, the woodland they call home has been surrounded by the menacing greenery of the title, beyond which lies a subdivision of exurban proportions that has apparently been built during the winter.
RJ knows a world-class team of foragers when he sees one and hoodwinks them — over Verne's strenuous objections — into helping him build a war chest of food that he secretly plans to turn over to Vincent. The plan includes breaching the hedge — which the critters call "Steve" — and looting the home of Gladys (Allison Janney), a tightly wound human and president of the homeowners association.
Fearing "the end of suburban tranquillity," Gladys hires Dwayne, a.k.a. the Verminator (Thomas Haden Church), a high-tech exterminator with nuclear-powered tools. Although DreamWorks characteristically splurged for an all-star voice cast, the filmmakers seem to value action over characterization. Depressingly generic, the anthropomorphized creatures could easily be plucked from any number of animated films over the last 70 years, and the two main humans are strictly one-dimensional.
The frenetic, action-oriented (and fairly violent) set-pieces are well crafted, but without interesting characters it's only sporadically involving. Even when the inevitable Armageddon-like showdown revs up the film's final half-hour, directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick's pacing is sluggish.
The film strangely backs away from its source material's intelligence, aiming lower on the comedy meter. The film replaces the usually mandatory scatological humor with frequent use of Stella's threatening aroma, and the emphasis on slapstick and pratfall humor is clearly aimed at kids too young to have read the comic strip.
The work of Fry and Lewis, who are credited here as creative consultants, is built on the wry, Seinfeldesque observations of RJ and Verne commenting on the foibles of humanity as it encroaches on nature. And though there are some throwaway references to human gluttony in the movie, overall it lacks the strip's wit. By the end, the environmental message is subservient to the much more familiar themes of community and friendship.
'Over the Hedge'
MPAA rating: PG for some rude humor and mild comic action
A DreamWorks Animation presentation. Directors Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick. Producer Bonnie Arnold. Screenplay by Len Blum and Lorne Cameron & David Hoselton, based on characters created by Michael Fry and T Lewis. Editor John K. Carr. Music Rupert Gregson-Williams, songs by Ben Folds. Production designer Kathy Altieri. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes [includes the short "First Flight").
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times