Merrick’s animals talk. They taunt him...
Here’s Massawyrm with a look at OVER THE HEDGE. Can it be true? A non-Pixar CGI movie about anthropomorphic animals that actually, genuinely works? This has Shatner in it...as a possum...so that’s a good enough start for me.
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Anyone remember, oh, say 24 hours ago – when I ranted, screamed and howled bloody murder about Just My Luck? Remember how I said it was an evil tool of consumption, designed to sell a product to little girls while giving them an entirely unwholesome and dangerous message while they were at it? Remember how mad I was that I spent 9 hours trying to get my anger out about it just right?
Well, imagine if you will that God read my review – then decided to apologize. Imagine that he sent me an e-mail today saying “Massa, dude I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. I mean, there was that whole thing with the Miners, and this war and the Sudan…look, I was asleep at the wheel okay? That movie never should have gotten made. But don’t worry. The boys downstairs in Accounting are looking forward to meeting everyone who made the film. It’s taken care of. But just to make things cool, what if I see to it that there’s a good, wholesome family movie that’s actually funny, has a positive message, and hell, just to balance out that whole McFly thing – I’ll make the overriding theme of the film one of anti-rampant consumerism. Would that make us cool?” Well, God didn’t e-mail me today. Instead, he gave me Over the Hedge.
Never have I seen two films so close together that were so diametrically opposed – two films that stood on such opposite ends of the spectrum that the dichotomy was simply mind blowing. Everything so absolutely wrong with Just My Luck is done absolutely right here. I loved the god damned thing. But going in I wasn’t so sure. Dreamworks Animation has a spotty record. Sure they did Shrek. But they also are responsible for Madagascar and Sinbad – the first being tremendously mediocre, the latter being downright terrible. And frankly, Over the Hedge doesn’t really look like much. Just another series of cute animals voiced by big name stars off on (oh dear god, not again) another adventure interacting with civilization. How could it possibly be good?
How? By getting everything right. By focusing on the script and story, by focusing on character humor rather than an unending stream of post modern pop culture references, by developing a theme and ultimately by choosing the absolute right cast to voice it. In other words, by following the Pixar model. Yeah, I said it Pixar. This is Pixar good. Seriously. This film, especially in its second half, evokes definite shades of Toy Story while managing the entire time to be its own beast.
Now its not perfect, but its near perfect. Over the Hedge’s one glaring flaw is that it opens slow and weak. It takes about 5 minutes to set up the premise and once it gets going there isn’t a single plot surprise you don’t see coming from those initial five minutes. What surprises you instead is just how in love you become with every little character and just how funny every character is. The humor here is astonishing, taking its time to build – a few giggles here, a full on laugh there, until the last twenty minutes which are so laugh out loud funny that you just can’t believe this kind of humor can come from a family film. In fact, it’s humor so good, it surpasses anything Pixar has done and actually crosses over into the realm of Animaniacs brand humor. It’s sharp and at times absolutely brilliant, without for a minute getting to the Shrek level of “Is this really appropriate for kids?” It is classic, wholesome shtick done absolutely note perfect.
Steve Carell owns this fucking movie. His character Hamilton “Hammy” The Squirrel starts off as your typical hyperactive, annoying sidekick character (kind of like the worst parts of Roger Rabbit, but on speed) but quickly gets more and more endearing until he actually becomes exactly like the best aspects of Roger Rabbit (on speed.) This is quite possibly the funniest thing Carell has ever done and will no doubt assure him an endless supply of voice work offers for as long as he wants them. There is a moment towards the end of the film that quite literally had me doubled over, laughing for a solid 30 seconds. It was actually the funniest moment I’ve seen on the screen in years. Nothing comes to mind that beats it.
Casting William Shatner as Ozzie the Possum was a stroke of demented geek genius. Here’s a character that has to feign death repeatedly, only to deliver deathbed dialog in Shatner’s classic, stilted (and often exaggerated) style. Every moment of this made my geek heart giggle with glee. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara serve to ground the cast by doing their classic SCTV mid-westerners riffs, and while not given the chance to deliver tons of laughs, add a perfect balance and will make any old school SCTV fan smile ear to ear. Hell, Wanda Sykes, a woman with one trick in her book, even manages to strike just the right tone to make her routine feel fresh and as funny as ever. Thomas Hayden Church as the exterminator, West Wing goddess Allison Janney as the uptight Home Owners association president, Nick “Aw Hell, God damnit Chewbacca” Nolte as Vincent the Bear, even punk-pop princess Avril Lavigne are all perfectly cast and nail every second they’re given to play around. In fact the only people who don’t SHINE are the stars, Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling, who both do great jobs, but have characters that just aren’t given material half as funny as everyone else around them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great – but their characters serve more as the meat of the film while everyone else brings the funny.
But my absolute favorite thing about this film is the theme. It is blatantly anti-consumerist. There is one string of jokes that gives us an animals-eye view of modern suburbia that is one of the most telling, concise, sharply written pieces of satire I’ve seen in a long while. And yet, it manages to avoid ever being preachy. Of course, this leads to my biggest complaint about the film, which oddly enough has nothing to do with the film itself. It’s how the film is being marketed. You see, someone needs to actually show the film to the marketing department, because I’m convinced they haven’t seen it. Here we have a film entirely about the excessive consumption of modern America versus the simple pleasures of family and friends…and it’s being cross promoted in conjunction with…Wal-Mart. Yes, the consumer Mecca itself. It’s like saying “Now that you’ve enjoyed this fine film about the ills of excess, why don’t you head on down to Wal-Mart and buy yourself something nice.” No, Wal-Mart never appears in the film, but the film is ALL OVER Wal-Mart. I’ve been seeing signage and advertisements there for some two months now…and having seen the film, well, it struck me as a little hypocritical. Someone didn’t do their homework, and this film is too good to get bent over by something as ridiculous as this.
But really, this is a damn fine film. Easily the best American animated film since The Incredibles, this certainly raises the bar over at Dreamworks, giving them a whole new model to work with. Classic humor, classic storytelling. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys family films or animated fare. This one just may earn a place on my top 10 list this year.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
OH! PLANT! PLANT, PLANT, PLANT, PLANT, PLANT! PLANT! This movie couldn't really be good, could it? It must be a plant! E-mail Massawyrm here and he'll be happy to tell you where to stick that line of logic.