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"Over the Hedge": Mischievous mammals bring comic strip to life
Special to The Seattle Times
"Is that from DreamWorks or Pixar?" inquired a friend after hearing about "Over the Hedge," a charming, clever and crisply paced little confection about small, junk-food-addled mammals that's sure to delight large mammals of any age.
It's a question more people are asking amid the increasing glut of lazy, computer-animated features that cutely anthropomorphize some manner of fairy-tale land, animal tribe or mechanized fantasy world. The answer is DreamWorks.
Short and sweet in the most complementary sense, "Over the Hedge" (loosely based on a daily newspaper comic) is a pleasant surprise as antidote to the most uninspired of these ventures. It's also full of elaborately built gags and lots of whole-hearted laughs.
When a conniving raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis) is caught pilfering the junk-food hoard of a cranky hibernating bear (Nick Nolte), he has mere days to replenish the pantry on pain of having his adorable hide mauled by the still-sleepy giant.
Fortunately, RJ stumbles upon a forgotten family of animals — opossums, porcupines, a squirrel and a turtle — who awake from their own seasonal slumber to find suburban sprawl has imprisoned them in a tiny patch of green. The only thing protecting them from the massive El Rancho Camelot Estates subdivision is the titular hedge.
Instead of laying in a larder of bark and berries the old-fashioned way, RJ convinces them that a new world of processed food awaits in the human world over — or under, or through — the hedge. Their indoctrination to the tastiness of convenience calories is an exploding bag of Day-Glo nacho-cheese chip powder so overpowering it's visible as an orange mushroom cloud from space.
The adventures are fast and furious as the multispecies family makes stealthy sorties into the neighborhood for their new sources of nutrition. There are several hilarious backyard set pieces, one including a playful dog, a jet-powered propane grill and a reverse run up a playground sliding board.
The voices are good matches for the animal personalities, including Willis, who — no surprise — changes his raccoon stripes and pulls together with his new friends in a pitched battle against Vincent the bear. Gary Shandling is suitably schlubby as the suspicious turtle, Verne, and Steve Carell is choice as Hammy, a squirrel so hyperactive he can time-travel when dosed with a caffeinated beverage.
Another smart casting nod is William Shatner as Ozzie, the poppa opossum who "does" Shatner when one of their capers calls for him to, well, play possum: "Light ... fading! Limbs ... weak! Losing ... will ... to live!"
"Over the Hedge" may not attain the heights of the best animation epics, but it's a fun vertical leap in the right direction.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company