Over the Hedge is a delightful animated film that offers nothing but pleasure to its audience. Expect no deep insights, no religious conflicts, and no intense discussion of implications to ensue from its viewing. What it does promise (and amply deliver) is the kind of movie enjoyment we always used to get from cartoons. With sly references and broad slapstick, this script has something to offer every member of the family.
RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) is a snack-addicted raccoon whose greed leads him to make the wrong choice as he burgles a hibernating bear (voice of Nick Nolte). He wakes the bear, then his effort to finesse his theft fails and he is given a one-week deadline: replace the stolen junk food or die.
As he shuffles through the woods, RJ stumbles across a cooperative group of foragers lead by genial turtle Verne (Garry Shandling's voice). Instantly, he hatches a plot to dupe the group into invading suburbia, just over the hedge, and helping him gather the wherewithal to placate the bear. Verne is fearful and dubious of the value to his foraging family, but RJ overcomes these fears with a single blast of cheesy powder from a nacho-chips bag.
Immediately, the other animals in the group are hooked. Hammy the squirrel (perfectly voiced by Steve Carell), with wistful hope, carves a Dorito-shaped chunk of bark and dusts it with yellow pollen from a passing bee, trying to recreate that glorious cheesy rush. He also develops a serious jones for cookies, which RJ uses in his plan to replace the bear's little red wagon. Girl Scouts, wheeling their wares around the neighborhood, are panicked by the "rabid" Hammy, jaws flecked with whipped cream, threatening, "I am a crazy rabbit-squirrel! I want my cookies!"
The rest of the story is the tale of how these animals conquer suburbia, the evil HOA queen Gladys and the demented "Verminator" Dwayne (voiced by Thomas Haden Church), and the selfish plans of RJ. Oh yes, and the bear.
The central roles of RJ and Verne have been through several changes as the film moved from its comic-strip conception to the screen. Originally, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were to voice RJ and Verne. Then Jim Carrey was slotted for the RJ role, but was replaced by Bruce Willis. The gentle good will and manic humor of the script, however, would make this movie funny even if the main voices were total unknowns. But recognizing voices is part of the fun. Around us in the theater we could hear the comments: "That's Eugene Levy!" "That's Catherine O'Hara." "That's Wanda Sykes."
And if you have an over-the-top ham-actor possum who needs to play dead in a drawn-out diversion, who could possibly be better to voice him than the original emoter, William Shatner? No simple roll over and play dead for this possum. Shatner's Ozzie keels over in a swoon that would do a Victorian damsel proud, clutching his heart, and delivering his lines with that classic Captain Kirk sputter: "Mother, is that… you? Beckoning me… into the light? Must… move… toward… the light!"
There are ample wry jokes for the adults to catch as they whiz over the heads of the youngsters, too. At one point, the love-smitten tomcat Tiger (Omid Djalili) carefully explains that truly well-bred Persians have no noses, hence no sense of smell. That's good, since Wanda Sykes' sultry skunk Stella has been painted black with charcoal and, assisted with a strategically placed cork, sent off to seduce the cat away from his cat-door. When she decamps back through the hedge, the heart-broken tom cries after her. "Stella-ah!"
No, it's not deeply philosophical. Instead, Over the Hedge is witty and wild and cheesy and sly, like the animals themselves.