Here it comes again. That inevitable comparison. Another computer-animated cartoon arrives in theaters, and it is immediately judged against the very best of its type. The result is often not pretty. Ice Age: The Meltdown and The Wild are among those recent stabs at duplicating Pixar's success that do fine at the box office-there's clearly a thriving market for this sort of thing-but don't hold a candle creatively or thematically to the masters.
But while Over the Hedge (rated PG for some rude humor and mild comic action) doesn't begin to reach Pixar-level transcendence (in the age-defying use of the term), this DreamWorks effort holds up well as amiable entertainment. One might not be tempted to recommend Over the Hedge to adults without children, but the cartoon is fun, energetic, and, mostly, family-appropriate.
Bruce Willis plays RJ, a raccoon with a peculiar dilemma. Caught stealing the food supply of a grumpy bear named Vincent (Nick Nolte), RJ makes a deal: The scavenger will restock the bear's lost stash of junk food within one week, or risk losing his life.
How will RJ gather so much prepackaged human food in so little time? The answer lies in a "family" of hibernating animals in the woods nearby who awake from their winter slumber to find a new, massive, manicured wall of foliage caging their home. Suburbia has invaded their habitat overnight, with a brand new world of humans just on the other side of The Hedge.
RJ convinces this interspecies gang of possums, porcupines, a skunk, a chipmunk, and a turtle that the humans, for all their alarming behavior, bring something invaluable to the animals' lives: processed, preserved, and oh-so-tasty junk food.
The message here isn't tied to blatant humans-are-evil-animals-are-good environmentalism. Over the Hedge is a much more genial poke at the conspicuous consumption habits of food- and lawn-care-obsessed suburbanites from the perspective of wide-eyed animals just trying to survive.
The film's fine voice talent, which includes William Shatner, Thomas Haden Church, and Eugene Levy, are used for more than just stunt casting, and actually help create memorable characters. Parents should be pleased, too, that Over the Hedge stoops to crude humor on only a few occasions (although these few unfortunate jokes are, admittedly, glaring).