Friday, February 15, 2013

Over the Hedge

By Steve Herte

It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature! Gee, I had a good movie lined up last Friday night and a wonderful (hopefully) Italian dinner when who should arrive but Nemo. Why someone got the idea to give a name to two low-pressure fronts joining off the East Coast to become a blizzard, I don't know. I knew that the movie, Les Miserables, was 2 hours and 37 minutes long, so I had scheduled leaving the office an hour early. I figured out from various websites and forecasts that it could be possible to do my normal Friday functions and still get home before all Hell broke loose. But the forecasts kept changing. The last one I saw said that the bulk of the snow would come at 6:00 pm (my dinner reservation was for 6:45) and the "blizzard" would start at 9:00 pm (about when I would be waiting for a bus home after the subway ride). Good Grief! I cancelled everything. The building management for my office closed the building at 2:30 pm giving me another hour I didn't need and I had the most horrendous two-hour commute back to front with the dregs of humanity. I arrived home, had dinner and, from time to time, looked out the window to check the weather. The last time I checked was 11:00 pm and there was only two inches of snow on the ground and I almost flipped. I could have gone ahead with my plans. It wouldn't have been all that pleasant, but it was doable. Anyway, thus end my rant. Instead of a Dinner and a Movie column this week, I viewed one of my newest DVDs. So here it is for your enjoyment.

Over the Hedge (DreamWorks, 2006) Director: Tim Johnson, Kerry Kirkpatrick. Starring the Voices of: Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell, Wanda Sykes, Willam Shatner, Nick Nolte, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Sami Kirkpatrick, Shane Baumel, Madison Davenport, Avril Lavigne, Allison Janney, Omid Djilili, & Thomas Haden Church. Color, Widescreen, 83 minutes.

If I hadn’t had a great friend who bought this DVD for me for Christmas, I definitely would have bought it myself as a part of my collection of animated features that survive several viewings. In fact, I remembered seeing this delightful DreamWorks creation in the movies and loving it then, but reviewing it brought back all the clever dialogue, hilarious scenes and eye-popping animation.

The story is of R.J. the raccoon (Willis), a wisecracking sneak thief always on the lookout for an easy meal. The movie starts and ends at a vending machine where R.J. is trying every which way to get the last bag of corn chips stuck in its clip and at the end; after the credits he just bangs the full machine and all the bags drop into the hopper for his new friends. The DVD uses the vending machine for its Main Menu. The viewer can choose to watch the movie, several short features (including “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure” and “In Hibernation” featuring Vincent the bear), a great behind the scenes “making of” video, or several games – one of which I played; “Get the Food” (a really fun, concentration-type game) – which unlock other special features such as wallpapers.

Most important of all is the film. The story starts when R.J. enters Vincent’s (Nolte) cave and discovers his stash of food. “Only take what you need,” R.J. whispers to himself, and then proceeds to load everything onto a little red wagon. All goes well until greed overwhelms him and he switches a tube of “Spudies” (potato chips) Indiana Jones-style with an empty coffee container right out of the bear’s paw. Even this doesn’t wake the hibernating bear, but then he opens it and the little hiss it makes wakes Vincent. R.J. tries to talk his way out of it, the loaded wagon rolls off the cliff to the highway below intact, then gets hit by an 18-wheeler and destroyed. Vincent threatens to kill R.J. but gives him until the full moon to get it all back.

Meanwhile down in the forest, a hollow log comes alive with awakening creatures. We meet Verne the turtle (Shandling), Stella the skunk (Sykes), Hammy the hyper red squirrel (Carell), a family of porcupines – Lou (Levy), Penny (O’Hara) and their litter; Bucky (Sami Kirkpatrick), Spike (Baumel) and Quillo (Davenport), and Ozzie (Shatner) a father opossum and his daughter Heather (Lavigne). They discover, thanks to Verne that they were nine berries short of starvation and need to restock the log for next winter. Foraging for food Hammy discovers a “big scary thing” (the Hedge) that “goes on forever” in both directions. The group inspects the formidable obstacle. “What is it?” “Let’s call it Steve.” “Why Steve?” “It’s a nice name. Then it won’t be so scary.”

R.J. is on a tree branch hearing all this and hatches a plan to use this group to further his own ends. “It’s called a Hedge.” He says. He has seen what’s beyond the hedge and it’s a huge housing development, which by the way, has surrounded what is left of the forest – now a small park, as he later demonstrates on a map. He convinces everyone but Verne that the food over the hedge is miles better than foraged food by opening the bag of corn chips and flooding their senses with the gold-dust aroma within (much like Moses parting the Red Sea) evincing an excited “What is THAT!” from Hammy. Ignoring Verne’s protests the group helps R.J. amass an enormous amount of food and it looks like he’s going to make his deadline, when Verne brings the whole thing back.

R.J. tries to reason with Verne but he won’t budge. At this point R.J. notices the dog chain leading to the dog house and tries in vain to quiet Verne. Verne steps on a squeaky toy, a big dog appears barking the single word “Play?” Verne backs onto another squeaky toy and the chase is on. Needless to say, the load of food is scattered everywhere again.

The many incursions by the forest creatures do not all go unnoticed. Gladys (Janney), the president of the local community group sees all this “vermin” attacking her neighborhood and calls in the “Verminator,” Dwayne (Church) who drives up in a truck topped by an animated exterminator repeatedly hitting a bunny on the head with a sledgehammer. He supplies Gladys with every kind of trap possible, including one that’s so lethal it’s illegal – a Wile E. Coyote electronic affair with a dial that can be set anywhere from a squirrel to a bear and which crisscrosses the lawn area with laser beams.

Nothing stops R.J. though. He hatches another plan to get into Gladys’ house (she’s planning a party and he saw the load of food being delivered). He uses Hammy to switch off the major trap by zip-lining him to the roof and getting him to chase a laser spot down the downspout to the off switch of the major trap. Then Stella is shorn of her white hairs, deodorized, corked and coaled to look like a female cat. This is to obtain the collar of Tiger (Djalili), Gladys’ Persian cat, which has an electronic device to open the cat door. Again, all is going fine until R.J. sees a container of Spudies and his efforts take the last few seconds of time until Gladys wakes up and discovers the “vermin” in her house. Dwayne arrives in a second and catches and cages everyone but R.J. who escapes with the load of food.

When Vincent sees R.J. with the “recovered” stash, he’s happy, but he tells R.J. exactly what R.J. doesn’t want to hear: that he’s a selfish sneak, a thief and a betrayer of his friends and is no better than the bear himself. R.J. realizes what he’s done, kicks the wagon and rides it down the mountain to rescue his friends with the bear in hot pursuit. The hilarious scenes that follow involve a crash with the Verminator’s truck, the three porcupine babies driving it, the bear getting lofted away by some huge balloons and the truck winding up in the upper story of Gladys’s house. Now she’s really mad. She and Dwayne chase our group into the hedge from one side and the bear (whose claws popped the balloons) is on the other side.

What to do? Up to this point, R.J. has been avoiding giving Hammy a high-caffeinated soda since he’s already too hyper. Now he’s their secret weapon. After downing a can of the soda, Hammy goes into hyper-hyper drive, the entire world slows down on its axis (a view from space) and Hammy calmly strolls through the hedge to the major trap, sets it for “bear,” has time to pick up a chocolate chip cookie while the lasers are slowly coming on behind him and gets back into the hedge. R.J., on top of the hedge, has one last Spudie, taunts the bear while eating it. The bear leaps over the hedge, R.J. ducks, and the bear lands on Dwayne and Gladys as the trap springs launching a terrifying beam (a la Transformers III) to the sky above and encages the two humans and the bear.

Explanations are made, apologies accepted and R.J. is made a part of a new family. Oh, and Stella has a boyfriend. Tiger has no sense of smell and comes running through the hedge calling her name (he gets to scream it in a previous scene as in A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Over the Hedge has many dimensions and the characters are remarkably well created – down to the last hair - they become real to the viewer. Just the lighting demonstration in the “behind the scenes” feature of the DVD is amazing. I can’t wait to fire it up again and investigate the other special features. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

TRIVIA: Over the Hedge was based on a syndicated comic strip written and drawn by Michael Fry and T. Lewis telling the story of a raccoon, a turtle, a squirrel and their friends who come to terms with their woodlands being taken over by suburbia, trying to survive the increasing flow of humanity and technology while becoming enticed by it at the same time. The strip debuted in June 1995. When it came out I never missed reading it.

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