The following review is based on an early, unfinished cut of the film. I've been assured that what I saw is representative of what will be their final product, but it is still possible that some small details may change between now and the movie's release..
“It goes on forever!” screams one of the animal characters in Over the Hedge, describing the new shrubbery that popped up around their woodland home while they hibernated. But that also rather accurately describes the urban sprawl hidden behind it. Thousands of humans packed in tract housing, driving minivans, talking on cell phones, and paving over anything and everything that gets in their way. Suburban bliss is not achieved without furry, four footed sacrifice.
These are only tertiary issues in the story of a conman raccoon who takes advantage of confused critters in order to save his own skin. RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) the raccoon has one week to fill a bear cave with purloined human goods, or the bear cave’s hibernating bear resident will have him for breakfast. While scouting a newly sprouted subdivision, he stumbles upon Verne (voiced by Gary Shandling) and his politically correct, mixed-species family. Verne is a turtle, and his family includes a pair of possums, a group of hedgehogs, an energetic squirrel, and one exceptionally stinky skunk. It’s spring, and they’re fresh out of hibernation. To their surprise, during the winter their forest has been demolished to make way for new human housing, leaving them with only a patch of trees and a giant hedge separating their tiny remaining swath of nature from the manicured lawns of man.
RJ sees his opportunity, and takes advantage of their unfamiliarity with humans to trick them into helping him gather goodies. Verne, ever the cautious leader, tries to hold his friends back. But hypnotized by heretofore unknown treats like cheesy poofs and chocolate chip cookies, Verne’s little family unit heedlessly follows RJ over the hedge into suburban trashcans and into danger.
Along the way and in between there’s plenty of cuteness and chuckles as the animals and their celebrity voices interact with one another. Over the Hedge flies by, and satisfies every step of the way. It’s not as brilliantly funny as Shrek or as emotionally rewarding as Finding Nemo, but it’s a steady diet of cleverly created characters and gently delivered life lessons. This is a film definitely geared towards kids, though it’s smart enough that adults will find it easy to get involved in.
Just don’t expect those adults only jokes from some of DreamWorks’ other CGI movies. You know, the ones meant to fly over the heads of kids. There aren’t any cracks about Verne wearing lacy underpants. The focus for Over the Hedge seems to be mostly on drawing realistically behaving animal animated characters and giving them a nice, small-scale adventure to go on. It does that, and does it well.
A big part of why the film works so well is the character models they’ve used for their animal characters. They’re fantastically well done, from their fur, to their bone structure, to just the way they move. They’ve been deliberately tweaked to make them look a bit more cartoony, but there’s so much realism in the animation of the film’s little porcupines, turtles, and bears (oh my!) that it’s a delight to simply sit and watch them hop around the screen.
Over the Hedge is far from another computer animated classic, but it’s a cute, clever little movie that gets on the screen, entertains, and then gets off. It’s succinct and sweet. Kids are going to love it, and geeky parents will get a kick out of William Shatner’s possum character and his penchant for overly dramatic deaths. Good enough.