For an animated movie with lots of cute, talking animals scampering around, "Over the Hedge" is pretty boring. With only a few chuckles here and there and very little emotional resonance, DreamWorks' computer-animated adventure looks great, but doesn't stick with you.
Bruce Willis provides the voice of RJ, a hip, independent raccoon who gads about suburbia looking for easy pickings in neighborhood trashbins. Greed gets the better of him, however, when he decides to raid a hibernating bear's stash of human food. Unfortunately, the bear wakes up just in time to see the wagonload of munchies get demolished by a passing truck. Now RJ has one week to replace every chip, cookie and even the wagon -- or else.
Enter the tight-knit woodland family headed by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling). They've just emerged from a long winter and only have 300-odd days left to forage in preparation for next winter. They're a pretty content and happy-go-lucky bunch consisting of the manic squirrel Hammy (Steve Carell), defensive skunk Stella (Wanda Sykes), father-daughter possums Ozzie and Heather (William Shatner, Avril Lavigne) and a porcupine family (with Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy as the parents).
RJ sees these eager worker bees as a solution to his looming deadline. He convinces the gang that the human world has all the resources they need, especially since one human Gladys (Allison Janney) will be throwing a party soon. Once all the right food items are gathered, RJ intends to abandon his newfound friends so he can pay off the bear. That's the plan anyway.
Naturally, RJ learns the true meaning of family and loyalty, something that won't be lost on the kids. The biting commentary on human overconsumption, however, may fly over the little ones' heads. Also, children will most likely identify with the short furry creatures and view the humans as the villains, which may cause some confusing anti-people sentiments instead of environmental awareness. A post-film discussion would probably be in order.
Character design is winning, even though none of the characters seem fully realized. RJ is just too much of a fast talker, and it's hard to buy that he has the required change of heart at the end. The breakout critter would by Hammy, who Carell infuses with lighthearted dippiness, eagerness and hyperactivity. Kids will relate to Hammy, but be aware that these endearing, occasionally funny qualities quickly become irritating.
Although "Over the Hedge" is based on an established comic strip, the material doesn't quite translate to the screen. It just feels like the filmmakers didn't get creative enough with their animal characters. For example, Shatner's possum character is a ham who equates "playing possum" with great acting. It's a cute idea, but after seeing what the "Ice Age 2" writers did with their two possums and Queen Latifah's mammoth character who thinks she's a possum, Ozzie is kind of lame.
Nevertheless, kids probably won't care too much about originality (after all, they loved "The Wild," aka "Madagascar Redux") and it's wholesome entertainment. A word of warning: make sure to buy or bring munchies because the all that talk of foraging will make you hungry.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times