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There are so many animated films coming out a year that it is tough to bring yourself to see any of them. Sure the Pixar brand means instant gold, however, the multitude of studios popping up with computer graphics are really watering down the quality. Especially with every studio releasing the same thing in competition, how many free from the zoo films did we sit through, it is a true surprise when one of these films surprises you. When I first saw the commercials for Dreamworks’ Over the Hedge, I had very mixed feelings. I never quite bought the huge hype surrounding the Shrek franchise and Madagascar was a bit of a letdown, so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Although the story isn’t anything original, the parallels to Toy Story are very prevalent as well as multiple callbacks to Indiana Jones, Citizen Kane, and A Streetcar Named Desire, etc., the all-star cast and comic relief do make the film a fun ride to sit through.

I was a bit surprised at the dark beginning. Before the credits role, (don’t get me started here, animated films should not have a prolonged credit sequence, we aren’t watching these names act so don’t try and sell us by name dropping when we are already seated and watching), there is a confrontation between our reluctant hero RJ and a bear named Vincent. While the quarrel does set up what is to happen, it was a bit edgy compared to the clips I had seen in the trailers. Fortunately, the film doesn’t take too long to break the drama and go into the fun atmosphere of our setting, a small patch of green left behind by the suburban sprawl. RJ must recruit the woodland creatures to help him enter his alien world and find food to feed Vincent. Sure we will have the obligatory turning on the leader for the new guy, the antics to get the job done, and the change of heart to save what really matters most in life, but besides the cookie cutter plotline we are treated to some hilarious characters.

Bruce Willis does a nice job as RJ the raccoon and has a good rapport with his equal in leadership abilities Verne, voiced by Garry Shandling. These two are the straight men throughout, doing what they can to rally the troops into succeeding at their tasks for the Spring. It’s really the periphery roles that steal the show. I generally find Wanda Sykes to be abrasive and annoying, but she reins in her schtick for an effectively bitter skunk in one of the few family-orientated jobs she has done. William Shatner parodies himself as usual, doing the pause ridden speech patterns he is loved for and Eugene Levy is also great as the husband without a backbone, agreeing to whatever seems the right thing to do at the time. The best of all the lemmings, however, is Hammy the squirrel, voiced perfectly by Steve Carell. Hammy’s manic energy does wonders to create big laughs and allows for many of the best gimmicks. His fighting with himself in a mirrored bumper and the hunt to catch the laser pointer’s red dot are priceless.

A big reason for many of the new animated successes lies with how original the characters involved are, rather than how fresh the story is. Over the Hedge is a perfect example of this, and while a movie like Madagascar fails despite the crazy penguins, this one is a winner as a result of its quirky cast. By allowing ample screen time for the roles that work, one forgets how derivative the tale is because they are so caught up in the antics. Credit the filmmakers for getting the little things right here and not trying to bog down the fun with unnecessary drama. Even the GPS brought laughs as I wish the real ones would restructure their directions when off course by asking for illegal left turns.

Over the Hedge 7/10

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photography:
[1] Hammy the squirrel (voiced by Steve Carell) has no idea that he’s about to be clobbered by a Trail Guide Girl in DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge – 2006
[2] Penelope (voiced by Catherine O’ Hara), Lou (voiced by Eugene Levy), Verne (voiced by Garry Shandling), Stella (voiced by Wanda Sykes), Hammy (voiced by Steve Carell), Ozzie (voiced by William Shatner) and Heather (voiced by Avril Lavigne) in DreamWorks Animation’s Over the Hedge – 2006

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