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The Independent Critic

Steve Carell, Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Wanda Sykes
Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
Len Blum & Others
Rated PG
100 Mins.
DreamWorks SKG
 "Over the Hedge" Review 
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"Over the Hedge," the latest release from the DreamWorks animation team, is an hilarious, sweet and insightful film that should serve as a marvelous film for the entire family to enjoy.

Seen as a "work-in-progress" at the Indianapolis International Film Festival, even as a "work-in-progress" the film is far ahead of recent animated films in laughter, entertainment value, and that all important quality for parents of "Will I survive watching it the 80 times my child wants to see it?"

The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

"Over the Hedge" is the story of a group of forest animals led by a turtle named Verne (Garry Shandling) who wake up from their winter hibernation to discover that their forest isn't quite the same anymore.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, RJ the Raccoon (Bruce Willis) is fighting for his life after he wakes up Vincent the Bear (Nick Nolte) while trying to steal his food but instead destroys it all. He must replace the food OR become the food!

RJ plots a surefire way to by infiltrating suburbia, and we are off on an adventure about family, friendship, consumerism and telling the truth.

"Over the Hedge" is brought to us by the same team that brought us "Shrek" and "Madagascar." Thankfully, "Over the Hedge" is MUCH closer to "Shrek" in tone, spirit and humor. The film will undoubtedly appeal to both adults and children with adorable, energetic animals and those famous "DreamWorks" one-liners that will have adults and children alike laughing out loud.

Each character is given numerous opportunities to shine, and shine they do!

There's Stella (Wanda Sykes), a skunk who knows she's single because she stinks. Sykes, a master of self-deprecating yet sensitive stand-up comedy, takes this wondrous little skunk and, well, turns her into a breath of fresh air. Her closing scenes with a neighborhood cat are hilarious, goofy and tender.

Then, there's Ozzie (William Shatner) the Opossum who loves to practice his gift for playing dead. This is a constant source of embarrassment for his teenage daughter, Heather (Avril Lavigne).

Even as an animated character, Steve Carell steals nearly every scene he's in. Here, as Hammy the Squirrel, Carell plays his scenes like, well, a rabid squirrel. Carell has always exhibited a gift for playing innocent yet mischievous characters. As Hammy, he's innocent, hyperactive and constantly funny. If any character deserves his own film it's Hammy!

Additional voice-over support is provided by the team of Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara (hilarious together), Thomas Haden Church as the Verminator, and Allison Janney as Gladys, among others.

"Over the Hedge" is filled with comical moments, zippy one-liners, double entendres, obscure movie references that work perfectly, and even a few tender moments. Only the tender moments at time come off as a bit forced, and on a couple occasions the "lessons" we are supposed to be learning are spelled out a bit too bluntly.

While the graphics weren't quite finished during this screening, what was finished looks beautiful and the animals are warm and cuddly without appearing too lifelike.

DreamWorks made the seemingly odd choice of recruiting Ben Folds to write/perform the songs for the film, and yet this choice works quite nicely with the mood and pace of the film.

To describe the plot of "Over the Hedge" further would be rather silly. It is an animated film designed to appeal to both children and family, and it succeeds in this goal magnificently.

In many ways, this is film teaches basic lessons about family, self-acceptance, honesty and, at least I got this lesson, maybe we humans aren't as smart as we think we are. Animals, RJ points out, eat to live while humans live to eat.

"Over the Hedge" is filled with enough little moments of comic wonder that I could literally sit here all day trying to share them all. However, I wouldn't want to take that experience away from you.

All I can say is that going "Over the Hedge" will take you to a comic paradise for children and adults alike.

"Over the Hedge" deserves to be the family blockbuster of Summer 2006!

© Written by Richard Propes

The Independent Critic