Co-directors Tim Johnson (Antz) and Karey Kirkpatrick (the film’s screenwriter) make sly commentary on the suburbanization of America with a computer-animated kid’s comedy notable for its ingenious voice cast that includes Bruce Willis as a con-artist raccoon named RJ and Garry Shandling as Verne, a conscientious turtle. RJ the loner raccoon makes a terrible mistake when he attempts to steal a wealth of packaged food from Vincent (Nick Nolte), a hibernating bear, one week before his spring awakening.
Vincent demands under threat of death that RJ replace the accidentally destroyed food in one week when he ceremoniously awakens from his slumber. RJ convinces a family of possums, a skunk, and a turtle to take advantage of the suburban sprawl that has suddenly sprung up around their hedge-walled enclave to plunder vast quantities of processed junk food from their human neighbors. But homeowner’s association president Gladys (Allison Janney) makes big trouble by hiring a military-minded exterminator calling himself “The Verminator” (Thomas Haden Church—Sideways) to lay waste to the little critters. RJ gets a lasting lesson in the ethics of familial trust from his newfound clan before the story is over.
As with all modern animated movies, half of the fun of watching them is associating the camouflaged actors with the eccentric characters onscreen. Steve Carell’s zippy vocal interpretation is especially inspired as Hammy, a hyperactive squirrel whose superfast antics give the story’s climax an unexpected hook when he’s suddenly able to move so quickly that the Earth’s orbit veritably stalls. Nick Nolte’s presence as Vincent the bear is perhaps the most recognizable voice in the cast, and his gently booming phonation connects well against Thomas Haden Church’s self-evident enjoyment in delivering his evil character’s droll lines.
Wanda Sykes steals the show as an impertinent skunk named Stella when RJ disguises her as a slinky black cat to flirt with Gladys’ magisterial tomcat Tiger (Omid Djalili) so that she can filch the automatic cat door key from his collar. The bit is an obvious homage to the Looney Tunes skunk Pepe Le Peu, famous for his guileless efforts at romance in spite of his stinky inner nature.
Over The Hedge is a kids’ movie made up of adult circuitry. The only human children in the story are a couple of realistic and therefore unsympathetic girl scouts selling cookies that have a narcotic effect on Hammy when he steals them.
What really pushes the uncomfortable interaction between the cute woodland creatures and the narcissistic humans that have invaded their habitat is what critic David Thomson calls “a primitive feeling for endangered civilization.” The animals are barely able to co-exist with the artificial territory built up around them, and their future seems gloomy at best.
For all of the animals’ efforts at storing up stolen unhealthy people-food for the next winter, it’s Hammy’s constant search for nuts that finally serves their purpose best. The metaphoric subtext is as clear as the apocalyptic destruction that befalls Gladys’ treasured suburban home. All of the humans have gone nuts. MTW