The villain in the new Dreamworks animated flick is a modern-day Cruella De Vil: a gourmet-coffee-guzzling, SUV-driving, chattering homeowners' association president who, with cell phone glued to ear, is out to eradicate the woodland creatures encroaching on her little corner of suburbia.
Could Over the Hedge loosely based on comics bearing the same name be the first animated kiddie flick endorsed by the Urban Land Institute?
A group of animals led by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling) awake from hibernation to find that a hedge has been erected around their small woodland outpost, and it's all that separates them from a neighborhood of new homes.
This innocent brood of foragers had been living a quiet existence, working together to stash away enough food to last them a winter and panic ensues when they discover their beloved berry bushes and nut trees are now manicured lawns with sprinkler systems and two-car garages.
Crafty raccoon R.J. (Bruce Willis) introduces the animals to what wonders lie on the other side of the hedge, a world where scavengers can find no end of tasty snacks, highly caffeinated fizzy drinks and gadgets with universal remotes. They are seduced by the goods, but ultimately realize that they still need to work together to survive.
The movie does a surprisingly decent job lampooning our mass-consumption-crazed culture. (A critter opens a bag of nacho chips and sets off an atomic blast of orange cheese coating that can be seen from space; humans are said to drive SUVs because we're forgetting how to walk.)
But it's a gentle kind of mockery. After all, the primary target audience for Over the Hedge comes from the "wrong side" of the hedge, having driven their kiddies to the film in giant SUVs, no doubt. Plus, the movie will be eagerly marketed on kids' meals, toys and advertisements. How long until you see a discarded Over the Hedge french fry sack littering a suburban greenspace near you?
Mixed messages aside, Hedge also suffers from its own filmmakers' overindulgence. With too many celebrities lending their voices, the story becomes a cluttered mess of characters and a confusion of "name that B-lister" guesswork. In addition to Shandling and Willis, you get Wanda Sykes, Nick Nolte, William Shatner, Thomas Haden Church, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. Some funny, talented people but no one gets enough screen time to create a worthy and compelling character.
In the end, the movie seems slapped together, and it's difficult to find anything that stands out much like a poorly planned grid of sprawling, cookie-cutter suburbia.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.