After the product placement bonanzas of Shrek and Shark Tale, it’s a minor miracle that DreamWorks’s Over the Hedge—a film in which junk food plays a central role—features nary a plug for Pringles, Doritos, or Coca-Cola, instead opting for generic fictitious monikers for its wealth of sugary treats. In-movie advertising restraint, however, is unfortunately the primary virtue of this latest animated animal kingdom lark, a hyperactive adaptation of Michael Fry and T Lewis’s comic strip that by and large swaps its source material’s wry observational humor for a string of crash-bang-boom set pieces.
After a theft goes awry, rascally raccoon RJ (Bruce Willis) finds himself with one week to replenish a hibernating bear’s (Nick Nolte, believe it or not) stash of candy and chips, a situation that causes him to trick a group of forest-dwelling creatures (led by Garry Shandling’s cautious turtle Verne) into crossing the titular hedge that separates woodland from suburbia to steal the sought-after provisions. The animals’ awe-struck bewilderment at tract house society initially promises humorous reflections on the man-animal divide, with RJ winning over his new friends by introducing them to the pleasures of partially hydrogenated oil-laden victuals and, inadvertently, the grave dangers human culture poses for their eventual survival. Yet aside from an inspired early montage about insatiable human consumption, directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick are too preoccupied with one-liners and whiplash action to capitalize on their premise’s satiric potential. Hence, an evil woman (Allison Janney) hires an exterminator known as The Verminator (Thomas Haden Church) to eliminate the furry critters that regularly raid her garbage cans, leading to a Mission Impossible heist sequence, a Michael Bay-ish finale, and a halfhearted moral about the importance of family.
An all-star voice cast (including Steve Carell as a manic squirrel, William Shatner as a possum, and Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as married porcupines) and bland Ben Folds pop ditties round out this familiar kid-friendly package, which boasts incongruous art design that—though less photorealistically creepy than The Wild—is full of colorful, textured settings but, also, heroes who look a bit too Happy Meal toy-ready. Such a clashing visual schema, however, proves perfectly in accordance with Over the Hedge’s strategy of embracing a timid, underdeveloped middle ground between skewering and embracing mass-market consumerism.