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Merrick battled a hyper-intelligent, eerily shrewd attack squirrel once. It must certainly have been from some other dimension…

Loathing the current deluge of marginally animated, derivatively conceived, CGI-driven, anthropomorphic (what the hell kind of word is that?) animal movies, I can’t say I’m particularly enthused about this one. THIS TRAILER does little to bolster my enthusiasm.

None the less, John McClane and Captain/Admiral/Captain Kirk in the same movie, in any capacity, is way-too-cool for me to resist.

Here’s Bad Bug with a look at OVER THE HEDGE, fresh from Toronto Sprockets…

I have just recently attended the Toronto Sprockets International Film Festival where they had the first ever screening of the new DreamWorks film “Over the Hedge”. The theatre was full to capacity, when an announcer came up to introduce the film, as well as the director and head animator. They started off with some small talk, and reminded the audience that the film was not completed yet. Mostly just shots that didn’t have any the lighting or hair and fur added yet.

Now I went into this film knowing very little about it except for the internet trailers, and reading a few of the scripts. My impression was it was going to be a lot of bodily emission jokes topped with pop culture reference and product placement that would have a mandatory reenactment of a famous movie scene and pass it off as a joke.

So after seeing the movie what did I think? I was very pleasantly surprised. The film starts off by introducing us to RJ a raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis, trying to get a bag of chips from a broken vending machine with enough gags and character moments to have the audience howling without him saying a word. I was reminded of that squirrel trying to get the acorn with in ice age. RJ’s desperation for food causes him anger a very large and frightening bear, and puts him into a situation where he has to get the bear a year’s supply of food within a week or be eaten himself. RJ can’t gather this food himself in a week, so he goes out looking for some patsies. I have to say it was fun seeing Bruce Willis playing a con man character again.

The movie then introduces us to the woodland creatures who have just come out of hibernation, only to discover that the entire forest they live in has been developed for suburbia, this presents quite a problem since they relied on the forest for there food supply, and now have nothing to gather for the winter. Enter RJ who sees a perfect opportunity to get some free labor to solve his bear problem. He tries to sell woodland animals on the wonders of the human world, and teach them how to hunt for junk food. Some of the more ‘smart’ humor comes from suburbs and some of the jabs the filmmakers take at modern society, nothing preachy, just some good subtle satire at over consumption, mass conformity and need to nature completely. The rest of the jokes in the movie are pure Looney Tunes inspired visual gags. This is an animated film after all, and anything can happen and pretty much anything does in this movie. All the raids into the human world result in some great slapstick, characters are smashed, complex plans go wrong in ways that would make Wild E. Coyote proud, and there is one extreme break from reality near the end that I don’t dare reveal for ruining one of the best jokes I’ve seen in a movie all year.

Of course jokes and a solid story are fine but what about the character? There is no reason to care what happens to them if you don’t emphasize with them right? Lucky all the character come off just right, you get a sense that they are a community that works together, and put up with each other. Verne the Turtle is the straight man of the movie and is a perfect foil for RJ, his character wants to protect everyone, but at the same time is jealous while everyone is having a fun time, and he is left out feeling like a stick in the mud. The Possum’s voiced by William Shatner and Avril Lavigne have some nice father daughter moments, but William Shatner’s over acting the death scenes are hilarious as well as him trying to teach his daughter that playing dead is the best solution when facing danger. Wanda Sykes does a good job playing a skunk who is a little angry at the world that is always afraid of her because of her smell. They have a nice gag with her that is a twist on the old Pepe La Pue Warner Bros. cartoons. Now Steve Carell as Hammy the squirrel is what is going to make this movie for kids and some adults. Hammy is a perfect over the top creation that is full of the nervous energy of the squirrel, but filled with a wide eyed sense of wonder that is infectious. They really have some great moments where his instinct takes over and he acts just like a real squirrel at inopportune times.

Again I have to say I was very pleased leaving the theatre after seeing this movie. I did go in with mild expectations mind you, but I promise you children will love this movie, and adults will get some good belly laughs out of it. The film is worthy of a big screen screening, and worth picking up on DVD for animation buffs.

OVER THE HEDGE scampers into theaters on May 19.

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