It's not a perfect family film, but Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick's Over the Hedge (2006) marks a modest improvement for Dreamworks' typically underwhelming animated features. This enjoyable CGI romp floats by with a cast of likeable characters, an interesting premise and an excellent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Rupert Gregson-Williams and singer/songwriter Ben Folds, with only a bare minimum of failed gags and recycled story elements.
Based on the syndicated comic strip written and drawn by Michael Fry and Thomas Lewis, Over the Hedge focuses on a group of wild animals whose natural habitat has been displaced by suburban sprawl. Most have distinct but predictable personalities, from a group of death-feigning possums to a zippy, fast-talking squirrel. One notable exception is Verne the turtle (voiced by Garry Shandling), whose slow-moving style doesn't stop him from being the group's unofficial leader. After the gang of furry friends hungrily awakens from hibernation, they discover the new, ant-like community, blocked by an oppressive hedge that seems to go on forever.
They break through with help from RJ, a sneaky raccoon who's looking to replenish a food supply he swiped from a sleeping bear. Together, the animals attempt to infiltrate the modern maze of vinyl siding, pink flamingoes and SUVs, not to mention the humans that live and eat there, in hopes of scoring enough food for next winter. Another obstacle arises in the form of a sadistic exterminator, whose high-tech gadgetry is typical of the film's over-the-top portrayal of suburban existence. Though some of the anti-development gags are sharp and well-deserved, it's nothing we haven't seen before, even in an animated film. Still, this is a film that appears to place its message of cooperation and family before action figure sales, so it's hard to complain.
The voice acting is a good example of casting done right. Bruce Willis headlines as the renegade RJ; other highlights including Garry Shandling (Verne), Steve Carrell (Hammy, the squirrel), William Shatner (Ozzie, the father possum) and Wanda Sykes (Stella, the skunk), among others. Shatner is perhaps the most cleverly cast, as his frequent death scenes allow him to go pleasantly over-the-top. The film's soundtrack deserves another mention, especially the frequent song breaks by pop music extraordinaire Ben Folds. It's a bit disheartening to hear his toned-down, revised lyrics for "Rockin' the Suburbs" during the closing credits, but a few new tracks soften the blow.
If the film has one main flaw, though, it's the lack of a good villain. Many of the condo-dwellers are flat, one-dimensional and uninspired; maybe this was done on purpose, but did we really need an abrasive real estate agent or a power-hungry exterminator as the sole scapegoats? The entire idea of nature vs. human development has been done countless times before (in both live-action and animated films), and this threat is usually sufficient enough as an obstacle. We don't need a self-absorbed woman dressed in black to take all the blame, do we?
Still, Over the Hedge will last much longer than films like Madagascar and Shrek for one simple reason: it's not bogged down with endless pop culture references and insufferable Top 40 hits. Additionally, the main feature is supported on DVD by a great technical presentation and a few entertaining extras, making this total package a good choice for families and animation enthusiasts alike. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format (and slightly picture-boxed on all four sides), Over the Hedge looks extremely clean, bright and colorful. Digital problems---such as edge enhancement and combing, for example---don't seem to be an issue here, ensuring this transfer earns a near-perfect rating.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix (also available in French 5.1, as well as English or Spanish 2.0) sounds clear and lively, offering crisp dialogue and a strong atmosphere. Many scenes make terrific use of the rear channels and subwoofer, including several music cues and the propane-propelled chase sequence. Optional English, Spanish or French captions and subtitles have been provided during the main feature and extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu and sub-menus for Over the Hedge fall into one of two categories: mildly confusing (left) or surprisingly generic (right). Annoyingly, several forgettable plugs for upcoming Dreamworks releases are placed front and center on the main menu, while the chapter index is buried under "Disc Setup". The 83-minute main feature has been divided into 16 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. Packaging is very straightforward, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and only includes a few promotional inserts.
The main section leads off with a feature-length Audio Commentary with directors Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick and producer Bonnie Arnold. The three deliver an entertaining and light-hearted commentary, though several technical notes and stories are repeated elsewhere. "Behind the Hedge" (12:01) is a fairly standard but fun behind-the-scenes featurette and touches on the original comic strip, character design, special effects, voice acting, the music and much more. Also of interest is "Meet the Cast" (15:43), a more in-depth featurette with the voice talent, including plenty of studio-to-screen comparisons; as well as "The Tech of Over the Hedge" (6:03, below left), a fairly standard chat with members of the special effects team. Up next is "Verm-Tech Infomercial" (2:44), an amusing animated short with info about how viewers at home can join the villainous organization. Closing out this section are a few Art Galleries (including character and set design, storyboards and more) and several Previews for a number of upcoming Dreamworks releases.
Up next is a kids-only section featuring "Hammy's Boomerang Adventure" (4:31, below right), a new animated short with the film's main characters. It's a fun and amusing little piece directed by Will Finn, featuring optional audio commentary by the director himself. Also here is a fairly detailed tutorial on "How to Draw Hammy" (10:56) with supervising animator David Burgess, the briefly educational "Critter 411" (4:03) and a few miscellaneous Games & Activities.
Other stand-alone sections also include a Preview for Dreamworks' Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld (1:03), an odd Recap of the first two Shrek films (3:43) and a Shameless Plug for the official Over the Hedge website.
All bonus features are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (though it looks as if most haven't been progressively encoded) and include optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. It's good to see more major studios treating the extras with the same care as the main feature, so here's hoping this trend continues.
Despite a few flaws that keep it from "future classic" status, Dreamworks' Over the Hedge is a pleasant, entertaining animated film that the whole family should enjoy. The DVD offers plenty of support for the main feature, including an excellent technical presentation and an assortment of light but interesting bonus material. A weekend rental should satisfy casual fans of the film, but there's certainly enough here to justify a purchase. Just don't drive your SUV to the store to buy it…and if you do, at least stay off the cell phone. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, mocking passers-by and writing things in third person.