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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Over The Hedge

I have to tell you something. I am practically ready to go Over the Hedge, and I don't mean about the movie of the same name. One of my all-time favorite people at the Essex Cinemas, Nancy Mixon, is taking the Summer off, which is such a drag. My every Friday is always a whole lot brighter seeing Nancy's smiling face when I come through the door and it is going to be wretched not seeing her for the next several months. She says she's going to spend her Summer gardening. That said, here I am going to see Over the Hedge, a movie with the word "Hedge" in it. That's going to remind me of bushes, which will remind me of flowers, which will remind me of gardens, which will remind me of gardening, which will remind me of Nancy, which will make me sad since I'll miss her, and now I'll sit through the whole comedy crying. Dammit.

As for the movie itself, I must say I was already proud of Over the Hedge just for having the guts to open in theaters the same weekend as The DaVinci Code. Granted, they aren’t exactly going to attract the same core audience but there is bound to be enough overlap that it’s a risky move just being in the shadow of a monster publicity machine as DaVinci has going for it. Poor little Over the Hedge has barely gotten a mention in the press, and who knows how many people even know this gem of a comedy is now playing at the Essex Cinemas?

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that Over the Hedge is an over the top comedy. It is packed with sight gags and ridiculous “skit” moments that highlight the voice talent behind its’ animated actors.
Over the Hedge stars Bruce Willis (16 Blocks; Lucky Number Slevin) as RJ, a raccoon with few scruples who clearly has a bit of weasel in his blood. He begins this tail, er, tale attempting to steal a stash of food that Vince (Nick Nolte, Hotel Rwanda; Hulk), a not-so-pleasant hibernating bear, had gathered from a nearby roadside rest area and hoarded in his cave for the coming Spring. Naturally, things go awry and Vince awakens, catches RJ in the act, and the booty of goodies is accidentally destroyed. Vince’s solution ~ he gives the wayward raccoon one week to replace the ruined stockpile or face becoming dinner himself.

As RJ bemoans his fate as a future feast, he stumbles upon a group of forest dwellers who have themselves only just awakened from a long Winter nap to discover that their territory has been devoured by an enormous green creature that seems to have surrounded their once-thriving forest. This thing they call “Steve” first befuddles them then frightens them, leaving them with very little to eat, and so their future is also looking bleak. RJ, no fool, sees this as the perfect chance to use his wiles to con this gullible crew into helping him to secure the food he needs to placate Vince by leading them on a raid of the humans’ world on the other side of “Steve”, also known as a “hedge.”

This curious band of critters includes a tortoise named Verne (Gary Shandling, Town & Country; Hurlyburly), who has always been the group’s turn-to leader until RJ’s arrival, Ozzie the opossum (William Shatner, tv’s Boston Legal; tv’s Star Trek), who seems to have taken over-acting lessons from, well, some over-acting tv actor like William Shatner, Stella, a high-strung but lovably fragrant skunk (Wanda Sykes, of tv’s The New Adventures of Old Christine, Monster-In-Law), the somewhat timid porcupine couple Lou and Penny (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Best In Show; Waiting For Guffman) and a hyperactive squirrel named Hammy (Steve Carell, tv’s The Office; Bewitched).

Of course the adventure into suburbia is chock full of slapstick antics that are going to entertain
both young and old. Kids will see one movie while adults will see another, but that is the cleverness in the writing. For the young ones it is a knockdown silly story in the tradition of Bugs Bunny or Road Runner cartoons but for adults there are gags that speak to more grown-up subjects, like America's slavish obsession with food, our addiction with consumerism, reflections on life in suburbia, and the ridiculousness of egos gone wild.

Certainly Over the Hedge has any number of morals to impart as it wraps up with RJ realizing that his manipulations of the innocent are wrong, especially when they have come to respect and love him for the raccoon he appears to be. He also realizes that this “appearance” is also who he has now actually grown into and he is ready to abandon his former life of treachery
for the loving family of oddballs he has tried to scam if only they will forgive him and accept him as one of their own. The messages to be learned here are not heavy-handed or too schmaltzy for adults to endure, and yet they are simple enough for even the youngest of kids to understand and appreciate, making them a part of the story instead of feeling like some forced lesson upon the audience.

The voice casting in this movie can not have been more perfect and the actors wring every nuance and
laugh possible out of their lines. Shatner spoofs his own image throughout and does so shamelessly, while Willis and Shandling seem well-knit as foils and eventual friends. Levy and O’Hara, who have worked in tandem for decades as part of the Second City TV comedy troupe, are perfectly in tune and play off each other like any Midwestern farm couple who have spent their whole lives together. Even youthful singer Avril Lavigne, as Shatner’s possum daughter Heather, seems to inhabit her fur as if she was born in it.

The animation, naturally, is superb, as one can always expect from DreamWorks, the company that gave us Shrek and Shrek 2, Madagascar, Shark Tale, The Prince of Egypt, and Antz.

All in all, Over the Hedge is a trip you’ll want to take and fortunately you only have to get to the Essex Cinemas to enjoy it. No crawling over foliage is required.

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