Bushwacked cliche lurks in the ‘Hedge’

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Bushwacked cliche lurks in the ‘Hedge’


Films that are finely crafted but frustratingly lukewarm are a uniquely tragic phenomenon. “Dark City” is one example. Woody Allen has had his share. But there’s one genre that attracts well-made mediocrity like a magnet: “family” feature animation.
It took skill, creativity and an infinite supply of patience to sketch, design, storyboard, draw, ink and shoot the two-dimensional animated epics of years past ― and though computer generated imagery has changed the process, those virtues are still requirements. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t know it from seeing “Hoodwinked.”)
Preparation for actors can be an arduous and time-consuming process, but once you step in front of the camera there’s nothing left but to shoot. In animation, though, the world is the artists’ creation, and the artists’ responsibility. If you need a cupcake in a live action film, you buy a cupcake. If you need a cupcake in an animated film, you’re baking from scratch.
And that’s why films like “Over the Hedge,” which clearly has every advantage a conscientious team of talented artists can bring, are such disappointments. From the beginning, these animators were chained to a lukewarm story with overwrought dialogue and unenthusiastic voice acting. And no matter how beautifully they render it, a cliche is still a cliche.
“Over the Hedge” takes only two things from the comic strip on which it is very loosely based: its setting ― generic American suburbia ― and its main characters, RJ the raccoon and Verne the tortoise. The story is a typical tale of cute animals colliding with civilization. And there’s no trace of the comic’s gentle wit here ― gags are strictly second-rate stand-up material or slapstick.
The latter, however, provides the film’s only real laughs, a testament to the artists’ devotion despite lackluster foundations. Gleeful suburban destruction, with chases and explosions, caffeinated squirrels and huge trucks flipping over and crashing into houses ― these scenes bring far more personality to the film than any of its celebrity voice actors, and judging from the whoops of the kids behind me, the younger set agrees.
But DreamWorks’ humans still don’t look quite right, with no real improvements evident since “Shrek 2.” Whereas the animals are all stylized and cartoony to varying extents, for some reason the designers stopped short when it came to people, who are all stock caricatures, unconvincingly realized. This is the art’s only weakness, and the human villains end up undermined by their own silly appearances.
Still, that’s nothing compared to the entirely forgettable characterizations. Bruce Willis and Garry Shandling bring nothing special to their roles, and William Shatner is disappointingly low-key as a melodramatic opossum. The only completely effective actor is Steve Carrell as Hammy the squirrel, which is reflected in the rodent’s animation, easily the most outrageous and appealing of the bunch.
For its few minutes of kinetic action, or as an interesting step in the development of DreamWorks animation, “Over the Hedge” is worth seeing. But if you like some substance with your style, stay on this side of the bushes.

Over the Hedge
Animation / English
83 min.
Now playing

by Ben Applegate
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