Don’t get me wrong, I laughed like a [insert laughing animal of choice here] throughout Over the Hedge, the latest DreamWorks Animation project to provide career rejuvenation for famous-name actors employed to voice the neuroses of raccoons, porcupines, skunks, squirrels, possums, and turtles lost in suburbia. The characterizations are charming. The voice acting is delightful. (A cast that includes Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, Garry Shandling, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Catherine O’Hara, and Eugene Levy covered in fur, quills, or shell is my idea of a good time.) The visual and verbal jokes are as bouncy and multilevel (hip height for adults, knee-slap-size for kids) as we have come, no doubt selfishly, to expect from DreamWorks. The songs are innocuous, as is the family-values lesson about how caring for one another is more fulfilling than caring only for oneself. Yeah, yeah. It sounds funnier coming from Bruce Willis as a raccoon.
I just wish I could shake the uneasy feeling that the movie, codirected by Karey Kirkpatrick and Antz‘s Tim Johnson and based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis, is really about the terrorists winning. I mean, the cute, funny, resourceful animals are actually four-legged terrorists, out to punish hapless suburbanite humans everywhere, represented by Allison Janney as Gladys, a shrill, nosy, upwardly mobile Cruella De Vil from the local homeowners’ association. (She’s so evil, she wears a black pantsuit, drives an SUV, and clutches a lipstick-stained, Starbucksy cup.) I wonder, if the tables were turned and the humans were the ones violently raiding the wild, destroying habitats to hoard resources, we wouldn’t feel quite so…oh, wait, we humans do that already.
The hedge, see, is what separates the innocent, cooperative, pacifist, nuts-and-berries-oriented creatures who live on one side of the wall of green (so awesome a sight that the populace names it Steve to soften their fright) from the terrors of the pleasures of suburban sprawl, with its strange, acquisitive humans, odd backyard accoutrements, and abundance of discarded processed food. The hedge also beckons the resourceful raccoon who calls himself RJ (Willis) for the junk food he needs to repay a territorial bear (Nick Nolte). It’s RJ’s sneaky goal to persuade the trusting many to help him load up his loot wagon. And if the de facto group leader, the turtle called Verne (Shandling), has qualms about the operation, RJ will appeal directly to the susceptible consumerist masses by introducing them to the joys of sugar rush and the uses of the universal remote control.
Togetherness and a tempered appreciation of occasional Dorito-like chips in a diet based on whole grains and bark prevail, of course. But back to the ridiculed biped population of this smoothly stitched satire: Gladys is all but burnt to a crisp and ready for the psych ward by the time nature triumphs. Just because she doesn’t want a raccoon in her pantry? That’s harsh.