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'Hedge' stands tall

Reel Critic

June 07, 2006|By Lisa Dupuy

"Over the Hedge," the new animated feature from the folks at DreamWorks, is quite funny and, for the most part, stands out in the cartoon animal movie crowd. It features talented comedians for voice-over actors and a clever story that teaches a little lesson about dunder-headed thinking by over-indulgent humans. Consequently, it could easily be viewed as anti-human by some.

The film centers on an adorably supportive "family" of woodland creatures ? two possums, five porcupines, one squirrel (with the energy of 20), a skunk, and an intuitive turtle as their leader. They wake up in the spring after hibernating to find their woodland home has been turned into suburbia, leaving them with a small patch of food-scarce land on their side of the hedge.

In swaggers RJ the raccoon (and raconteur) to help them with their troubles. He knows the ways of the two-legged walkers and knows they've got food out the wazoo, theirs for the taking. Little do the innocent creatures know, RJ is just using them to replenish a supply of food he stole from an angry, hungry bear. It's one hilarious caper after the next as they get the food and lose the food and so on. RJ (Bruce Willis) struggles with guilt and Verne the turtle (voiced charmingly by Garry Shandling) wonders whether his mistrust of RJ is real or based on jealousy.

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The animals are all well-voiced but one stands out as a clear favorite among children and probably adults. Steve Carell ("The 40-year Old Virgin" and NBC's "The Office") plays the squirrel, Hammy, so frantically yet so sweetly you've just got to love him. And the animation of his every quiver and twitch is so good, he seems ready to zip off the screen into your lap for a hug. In one great scene, Hammy, hyped up on a sugary drink, sees the whole world moving in slow motion, and, as a result, he saves the day.

At least he saves the day for the animals. The humans are left in a gnarled heap simply because they were trying to keep the varmints out of their house. Allison Janney plays the uptight head of the Homeowners Association and Thomas Haden Church is the crazed exterminator, aka the Verminator.

Both of them are way over the top and totally unsympathetic. Being pretty much the only human characters, this is where the anti-human bias plays in. But people can be clueless about the devastation they're having on the natural world around them and this movie points out their foibles in a harmless, humorous way.

Another perk of the movie is the nice set of songs by Ben Folds. Also, the kids will enjoy the fact that rocker Avril Lavigne voices a young possum who is fathered by the one and only William Shatner. And Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara always have a special chemistry (think "A Mighty Wind") especially here where they play loving porcupine parents with a Minnesota accent, don't ya know.

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