"Tit for Tat and All That"
The early rough cut of OVER THE HEDGE, a new animated comedy opening on May 19, is often very funny and entertaining, and even has a strong heartwarming ending, but it also has some moral problems and is slow in parts.
The movie opens with R.J., a thieving raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis, trying to get a package of chips from a vending machine. R.J. then goes to the cave of Vincent the bear, who’s still hibernating. R.J. starts to steal some of Vincent’s large stash of food, but he ends up trying to steal all of it and putting it on a red wagon in the cave. R.J. sees a can of chips in the sleeping bear’s paw and takes it, but he wakes Vincent when he opens the can a tiny bit to smell its glorious contents. All the food on the wagon accidentally rolls down the little mountain onto the highway, where a truck obliterates all of it.
Vincent threatens to kill R.J. unless he replaces all the food as well as the red wagon and a blue cooler. He gives R.J. only a week, when the bear will come out of hibernation during the full moon.
R.J. makes his way to the new housing subdivision. Before he gets there, he runs into a group of other small animals that just woke up from their own hibernation. Led by a cautious turtle named Verne (voiced by Garry Shandling), the animals are surprised to discover what appears to be an endless green hedge. After secretly listening to their conversation, R.J. introduces himself to the animals, which include a family of possums, a family of porcupines, a female skunk, and a hyperactive squirrel named Hammy. He tells them that the greedy, lazy humans living on the other side of the hedge have more than enough food. Despite Verne’s warnings, R.J. convinces the other animals to start stealing food from the humans. Being a cautious, intelligent turtle, Verne predicts that this will only lead to trouble, but no one listens to him. Of course, R.J. is lying to the animals. He only wants their help in getting back the bear’s stash.
Verne’s warnings of dire consequences begin to come true when the head of the homeowners association hires an exterminator, Dwayne the Verminator, to get rid of the pesky foraging animals. Comical complications ensue, including a hilarious sequence where Verne and R.J. are chased by a big dog. That sequence leads to the funniest line in the whole movie.
When all is said and done, OVER THE HEDGE has a big heart, with a lonely creature finding a community who welcomes him and willing to accept responsibility for his actions, as well as other creatures taking responsibility and apologizing for their actions. These moral messages pull at the heartstrings, but most of them come toward the end of the movie. Thus, before the heartwarming ending, there are a lot of immoral messages, some which are slightly rebuked, while others would seem to be condoned. The major problem is stealing property and destroying property that doesn’t belong to you. There’s a slight verbal refutation of this toward the end, but there are also some excuses in that the human beings stole the forest from the creatures. Most of the excuses come from the con-artist raccoon, so the messages are slightly ambiguous. There’s a great scene of shame, however, when the bear shows the raccoon just how evil his trickery of the other animals has really been.
OVER THE HEDGE also contains a light politically correct tone of criticism of the materialism and conspicuous consumption in America’s middle-class suburbs. While the Bible offers many warnings against crass materialism and greed, it also warns about envy and coveting other people’s property. Say what you want about middle-class lifestyle in the United States, but look how well the U.S. economy performs, including how low it’s unemployment rate is, especially when compared to other industrialized consumer nations. (It also may be disturbing that all of the middle-class humans and human villains seem to be white – are there no people of color who are materialistic?)
In addition to these moral, worldview problems, OVER THE HEDGE also confuses the idea of community with the idea of family. The little animal community led by Verne the turtle is a positive element, according to the movie, but the movie’s script calls this community a “family.” This is a Hollywood definition of family and community that may be confusing if and when you discuss the movie with your family, friends and other people.
Aside from the moral failings in OVER THE HEDGE, the movie has a slow beginning. The movie doesn’t really take off until the animals invade the housing subdivision and “the Verminator” arrives.
Thus, there are moments when the movie soars, moments that are exciting, moments that are hilarious, and moments that are heartening, but there are also moments that are slow, as well as a couple plot developments that are never resolved. On the other hand, the dialogue is often witty and two or three of the comic set pieces are brilliantly done, in a Loony Tunes way. The voice work by Garry Shandling and Bruce Willis is excellent. Some of the other characters, especially the porcupines, could have used more plot development, but Hammy the squirrel and Stella the skunk, not to mention the Verminator, provide a few precious highlights to help enliven the movie.
The showings of OVER THE HEDGE will be combined with showings of a little short called FIRST FLIGHT. In FIRST FLIGHT, a nerdy white collar worker carrying a briefcase meets a young blue bird that doesn’t know how to fly yet. At first, the man tries to ignore the cute, friendly bird, but he takes pity on it and tries to teach it. Surprising things follow. The message of this short is that people sometimes must break free from the tedious quality of their lives. FIRST FLIGHT is very well animated and compelling. The message is heartwarming, but a couple of the antics are over the top.
(Pa, BB, C, PC, E, AP, Acap, MM) Eclectic or mixed pagan worldview with several, family-oriented moral and redemptive messages as well as several immoral messages including a lax attitude about destruction of property, stealing and a Hollywood definition of family where the notion of community is confused with the notion of family, plus light politically correct, environmentalist content such as a false comment about SUVs (but the character who says it is a con artist) and a light criticism of the American middle class in suburbia (also by the con artist character, however, so it may be seen as slightly ambiguous); four very mild, slightly off-color terms like butt, wee-wee, heck and dang and one light exclamatory profanity of “My God”; intense cartoon violent moments in a comical vein where a dragonfly gets killed by electric shock trap, woman’s hair gets singed off, bear and man and woman get zapped by a large animal trap, mean bear shocked by exterminator’s electric prod, animals destroy fences in chase scene, large bear tells small raccoon that he will kill him, trucks smash carts carrying stolen food, characters hit by mallet display on truck, and dog chases animals, which creates comical havoc; no sex scenes, but skunk is made to look like a cat in order to divert Persian cat; turtle’s nude rear end is shown at least a couple times; no alcohol; no smoking, but there are references to caffeine making characters hyper, especially an already hyper squirrel; and, strong miscellaneous immorality such as stealing, lying, crafty raccoon deceives other animals, and property destruction.
OVER THE HEDGE is a new animated comedy about a shifty raccoon who cons a group of animals into stealing food from humans so he can repay an angry bear. The bear catches R.J. trying to steal all his stash of food, plus a red wagon and a blue cooler, but the bear’s stash is destroyed in the process. The bear gives R.J. only a week to replace his stash of food and stuff. R.J. encounters a group of animals, led by a cautious turtle named Verne, living next to a large housing subdivision full of food to steal. Despite Verne’s warnings, R.J. convinces the animals to start stealing food from the humans. Of course, Verne’s warnings come true.
OVER THE HEDGE is often very funny and entertaining and has a positive heartwarming ending, but it has some moral problems and is slow in parts. The major moral problem is stealing and destroying property that doesn’t belong to you. This is partly rebuked in the end, with R.J. being shamed into taking responsibility for his actions. Much of the movie’s humor up to that point involves the animals getting away with stealing