Over the Hedge
Mirror Film Critic
Over the Hedge is a surprisingly funny cautionary tale about the dangers of suburban life when it threatens to cut out family values. It isn’t just the exuberance of the writing and editing in the film – so buoyant it could practically float up into space – but the characters and voice performances that make Over the Hedge exceptional in the lucrative genre of animated kids’ movies.
The film is based on the long-running comic strip of the same name by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, and is about the unlikely friendship of a raccoon and a turtle who spend their time peering over the hedge that divides them from the humans; in so doing, it tells us more about ourselves than we ever really wanted to know.
Imagining what wild animals must think of us is what makes all of this so funny. Not just any animals either, but those animals who dwell on the outskirts of our lives that we think of pests and vermin – like squirrels, skunks and raccoons. They eat our trash so maybe they’ve learned a thing or two about us. It’s a great way to see our lives from the outside, especially the ridiculous amount of excess, the hoarding, the overeating, the big cars, the street cleaners and the endless amounts of trash.
It isn’t necessary to be familiar with the comic strip before seeing the film – both compliment each other nicely. If the film version had sold out the strip it wouldn’t have worked, but it managed to maintain what is so funny about the strip and then some. Co-directed by Tim Johnson (Sinbad, Antz) and Karey Kirkpatrick, Over the Hedge is the perfect balance of substance, humor and thrills. It never falters, is consistently entertaining and will hopefully teach us all a thing or two about the way we live.
RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) is a squirrel on the make. He’s savvy about the world of humans and has adopted their tools for his own purposes, mainly for acquiring processed and packaged foods from them – chips from the snack machines, Pringles, chocolate chip cookies. The film begins when RJ exploits an opportunity to take only what he needs from the big mean bear on the mountain but instead of just taking what he can carry he steals everything, every last box of fake human food. When he is caught, the food tumbles down the mountain and RJ will be killed by the bear if he doesn’t get back the food he lost.
RJ ventures down the hill to where the hedge separates the human world from the forest where he meets up with group of little animals huddled together in familial unison, among them the turtle Verne (voiced by Garry Shandling). They eat to live but only just barely, scrounging berries and nuts to survive the harsh winter.
RJ sees an opportunity to use the hungry rodents, vermin and reptiles to get back all of the food he stole from the bear. They, in turn, see RJ as a new friend, or member of their little family. The creatures are unique and funny, voiced by people like William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Wanda Sykes, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and of course, Steve Carell once again steals the show as Hammy. Is there anything Carell can’t do?
There isn’t a minute of wasted screen time and most of the jokes will have to be gotten in subsequent viewings, so fast do they zoom by. But there is no mistaking the pure fun in this film. As touching as it ultimately is, it holds up a mirror so we can laugh at ourselves and our silly lives that are so driven by things we buy and eat.
We are reminded that what we value most is each other. There isn’t anything that can be made in a lab, packaged and sold that can replace our affection and love, no matter what it says on the label.