Animated Movies, DreamWorks, Opinions, Reviews, Studios

DreamWorks Animation Countdown 12: ‘Over the Hedge’

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Those who know me know that I absolutely adore Over the Hedge, but what is it that draws me to this movie? Perhaps there’s a sentimental attachment since it was the movie my wife and I saw on our very first date. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m obsessed with animation, or that the movie is colorful, fun, and full of appealing characters.  Or maybe… it’s just a good movie.  I was excited when I was asked to do this review because it would give me a chance to dig deeper and really think about it.  So, let’s take a look at Over the Hedge.

Before looking at the film, it’s important to note that the movie was based on a comic strip.  The strip, which debuted in 1995, was written and drawn by Michael Fry and T. Lewis.  The premise of the comic was simply this: A raccoon, turtle, a squirrel, and their friends have to come to terms with their woodlands being taken over by suburbia, and are trying to survive the increasing flow of humanity and technology while becoming enticed by it at the same time.  For those of you that are familiar with the film version, you’ll know that the filmmakers didn’t stray too far from this original premise.  The strip offered a clever and comedic look at suburbia, so it was important to the filmmakers that they stay true to the unique wit and charm found in the comic.

Now let’s take a look at the film adaptation.  The film debuted in May 2006 and, for its time, was quite the technical achievement.  It’s important to keep in mind while watching movies from over a decade ago, that technology wasn’t quite on the level that it is today, and filmmakers were still experimenting with what they could and couldn’t do on a computer. To help put things in perspective, it was just two years prior in 2004 that Pixar would give us our first look at realistic human skin in The Incredibles using a process called ‘Sub Surface Scattering.’ And in June 2006, just one month after the release of Over the Hedge, we’d get our first look at realistic reflective surfaces in Cars using a process called ‘Ray Tracing.’ As you can see, there were important advancements still being made.

What was it, exactly, that made Over the Hedge so demanding technically? Kathy Altieri, a Production Designer on the film, said that she had no idea if they’d actually be able to make the movie they’d envisioned in their heads because of how advanced it was going to be technically. All the elements they wanted –  such as fur, backlighting of fur, and a forest full of foliage –  did not come easy and was a lot to ask for at the time.

Craig Ring, a Visual Effects Supervisor, said that they wanted to push fur further than they’d ever done previously.  And, boy, did they.  Not only did this film have a ton of furry animals, but it had a ton of furry animals hugging, which is even more difficult to do on a computer.  This was something that made technical supervisors wince every time they were made aware of another “hugging” scene.  Even though they were faced with a difficult task, the challenge, in my opinion, succeeded, and adds a level of quality that had yet to be seen in a computer animated film until then.

As the movie opens, we’re immediately introduced to our main character, a raccoon named RJ, a self-professed “Family of One,” and he’s found himself in quite the predicament: he’s been foiled in his attempts to acquire a bag of nacho cheese flavored chips from a vending machine. After using every trick in his bag of goodies and still failing, he’s tempted to do the next best thing – steal some food from an acquaintance of his, a bear named Vincent. He eventually decides to pillage Vincent’s entire stash, and when he notices a final can of Spuddies, a type of off-brand Pringles, he just can’t help himself. Attempting to retrieve the can wakes Vincent and results in the entire stash of food, resting on a red wagon, rolling out of the cave, down the mountain, and onto the road where it gets destroyed by a semi. Hoping to escape Vincent’s “death grip,” RJ vows to return the entire stash to him. Vincent accepts RJ’s offer, but gives him just one week to make good on his promise. What is RJ to do?

As he begins his mission to replace Vincent’s stash, he luckily stumbles upon a group of woodland creatures who have just awakened from their winter hibernation only to find that a huge hedge has appeared near their home. What is it? What’s on the other side? How will they ever manage to collect enough food for next year’s hibernation? These are answers RJ is more than happy to give them, on one condition: That they help him gather all the items on his list. Through some exaggerating and some minor persuasion, he manages to get them on board with his scheme and his plan has succeeded… or has it? Let’s just say that the woodland creatures find themselves in some hilarious situations when confronted with suburbia and all that comes with it.

Where the movie really shines, though, is in the writing. Unlike some other DreamWorks animated films, this movie doesn’t rely on pop culture references or potty humor in order to formulate jokes or to evoke laughs. No, this film approaches things from a more clever angle by taking a comedic look at consumerism, food consumption, and modern day technology. By taking this approach and building situations around these themes, it manages to deliver a much more unique brand of comedy.

In one scene in particular, RJ introduces his new-found friends to their first bag of chips. When asked what they are, RJ responds with this:

“That, my friend, is a magical combination of corn flour, dehydrated cheese solids, BHA, BHT, and good old MSG – AKA – ‘The Chip’, Nacho Cheese Flavor.”

In another scene shortly after, RJ is taking the woodland creatures on a tour of suburbia for the first time and explaining to them how, with humans, everything revolves around food. His explanations are backed up with visuals, reinforcing  his “wisdom,” and resulting in one of the funniest sequences of the movie. These are just a couple examples – of many – found sprinkled throughout the movie, and for me, it was much more refreshing than the pop culture references studios tend to rely on time and time again, which are mostly bland and overdone.

Another thing that DreamWorks got right with this movie was the casting of the voice talent. In the past, DreamWorks has taken a lot of flak for mostly hiring “big name” talent so that they could name-drop in their marketing materials. Perhaps that was their plan on this movie too, but it doesn’t come across that way. Each of the actors completely embody their character and deliver and fantastic performance. First and foremost, there’s Bruce Willis, who gives a convincing performance as RJ, a con artist raccoon who’s completely content to lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever he wants or needs.

While we’re discussing voice talent, let’s talk about some of the other supporting characters that also deliver top-notch performances. The first of the supporting characters would be Vern, an uptight, paranoid turtle voiced by the late Garry Shandling. Vern is untrusting of newcomers and only relies on his makeshift family of woodland creatures. Next you’ve got Hammy, a hyper-active squirrel voiced by Steve Carell. If you didn’t know it was Steve Carell voicing Hammy, then you’d never guess it was him. He completely disguises his voice and delivers a totally unexpected, almost unrecognizable performance. There’s also skunk named Stella voiced by Wanda Sykes, and a porcupine couple voiced by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.

One of the funniest casting choices, however, would be the casting of William Shatner as an overly dramatic opossum named Ozzie who, rather than facing a dangerous situation, would rather roll over and play dead. If you didn’t know any better, you could say that William Shatner is actually parodying himself. Avril Lavigne also has a minor role as Ozzie’s daughter, Heather. If you could accuse DreamWorks of hiring someone with the intent to name-drop, this would be the only case. Although she did an okay job, it was nothing spectacular when compared to the rest of the characters.

Rounding out the cast are the two main human characters Dwayne, an overenthusiastic Exterminator, and Gladys, the uptight head of the Homeowners Association, voiced by Thomas Haden Church and Allison Janney, respectively.

Also of note is the film’s soundtrack. The movie contains several songs written and performed by Ben Folds. Instead of just shoehorning in pre-written “pop” songs, these songs were written for the movie and, because of this, move the plot along rather nicely without yanking you out of the moment.

The first song, “Family of Me,” is sort of an explanation of RJ’s character. This song is played over opening credits and while watching RJ begin his quest to replace Vincent’s food. Another song, “Heist,” is played over a montage scene of the woodland animals crossing through the hedge and entering suburbia in order to steal food and other suburbian “treasures.” The songs contains lyrics that also play heavily into the parody of suburbia. These lyrics include lines like:

“Follow me into the great unknown where pink flamingos grow, diet soda flows, and what you take magically regenerates on supermarket shelves, the ovens clean themselves…”  

There is also a lovely ballad entitled, “Still,” that plays when RJ realizes that even though he’s conning these poor creatures, maybe he’s becoming attached to them and wants something a little more than his “Family of One.” It’s refreshing to see a studio commit to original music that’s written with the intent to forward the plot, and not just to sell a hit soundtrack.  Score another point for DreamWorks on that decision.

So to answer my question: Why am I drawn to this movie? Well, I think the answer is… all of the above.  Yes, maybe there is some sentimental attachment to it, and yes, it has all the other qualities I mentioned, but I found there’s much more to it than that. In my opinion, DreamWorks really nailed this one. It has all the elements that not only make a great animated movie, but a great movie in general. It has a great story, clever writing, appealing characters, and an original soundtrack.

Adding to the authenticity of this movie is that you get to witness actual character growth from the main characters. RJ, who in the beginning was content being a family of one, realized that there was something more that he was missing. He allowed himself to open up, let others in, and in the end finally became part of a family. Vern, who was uptight and untrusting, learned that he could relax a bit, have some fun, and actually trust others beyond his small circle of friends. Whenever you get to see great character development and growth, there’s always an emotional connection to be made and a sense of fulfillment after having viewed the film. In my opinion, Over the Hedge nails every single aspect that makes a movie worthwhile.

I highly encourage you to watch this movie if you’ve never seen it, or to give it another shot if it’s been a while. You might just find that it has more to offer than first meets the eye.

Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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About Ryan Campbell

Hello, my name is Ryan and I’m a Graphic Designer from Ohio. To say that I’m an animation lover would be a complete understatement. Animation is my passion! All my life I’ve loved cartoons and studying everything I can about the animation process because I’m absolutely fascinated with it. I consider myself not only an animation enthusiast, but even more so, a Disney enthusiast! Some of my favorite animated films include Tangled, The Incredibles, Toy Story, Kung Fu Panda, and of course The Lion King.

  • Rachel Wagner

    Amazing review. I love how you combined both your personal attachments and the many aspects that work for you. I feel like this film starts really strong but devolves but I can see why you love it.

  • This is most definitely one of the underrated movies in Dreamworks’ canon. I too am a big fan of this movie (songs aside… I don’t care for the singer’s voice at all). There’s a tendency in CG to make a movie seem important by making the scale of the movie EPIC. But here, it feels important because it feels personal… forest friends that are just trying to defend their home.

    As you pointed out, there’s a lack of overt pop-culture references, which was refreshing coming from Dreamworks, yet the humor generally carries well. And I love the opening with RJ and Vincent… to have the bear just come out and say within his first two lines “I’m gonna have to kill you” immediately sets the stakes really high for RJ.

    However, there’s one pretty huge plot hole in the whole thing… who exactly was the groundskeeper who was walking over to the other side of the hedge and manicuring it? It’s perfectly flat from both sides.

  • Karl “Karlamon” Smith

    I adore this movie too! Over the Hedge is among not just my favourite DreamWorks movies or animated movies, but among my favourite movies in general, down to the point I once made a fan site dedicated to it.

    It’s not just nostalgic memories that make me love it though. The well-crafted animation, adorable characters, witty satire, and heartwarming family messages make it stick to me, and I personally see RJ as one of my animated idols.

    All in all, great review, and glad to see another individual who loves the movie like I do! ^_^

  • Jordan Briskin

    At a certain point, I had lost all respect for DreamWorks Animation (except for the hand-drawn animated features, which work the best for me), so I haven’t watched OVER THE HEDGE in ages, but after reading this review, I’m willing to give it another chance.

  • Alex Beezley

    I like this film, and I think that it ranks among the top tier of DreamWorks movies. My only major complaint with this film is that Steve Carell’s voice becomes tiresome after a while. I appreciate the zany plot, the voice acting (well, for the most part), and the animation. This film may have be somewhat forgotten, but it is still very enjoyable.

    • I thought that they used Steve Carrell sparingly enough that he didn’t get on my nerves… however, he did suffer from some poor dialogue written for him. The fact that “I’ve finally found my nuts!” is the last piece of dialogue in the movie is something I find particularly groan-worthy.

  • Sebastian

    Could really feel the passion and respect for the film in your post. Just gonna say that this is my Emperor’s New Groove from Dreamworks. If not Shrek 2 then this one is most likely the funniest Dreamworks movie Ive seen.

  • Yaseen Fawzi

    I really like this movie a lot. I haven’t read the original comic strip all that much, but I still appreciate the satirical elements, the stunning animation, and attacks on consumerism, especially with “enough just isn’t enough.” Oh, and the Ben Folds songs are catchy, too. What I also enjoy the most are the characters, in particular the relationship between RJ and Verne, as well as the other animals, who are brimming with personality. However, I became particularly enamored with the character of Hammy. He is someone who is just so lovable and has a unique mindset in the way he sees things, and his scenes are pure gold. In short, it’s my most underrated DreamWorks movie. Although Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time that a sequel wasn’t likely due to the film performing slightly below expectations (and unofficially, a debate on the licensing rights, that hasn’t stopped me from conceiving an idea for a follow-up, in this case a spin-off starring Hammy.

    I had originally conceived it as a kind of SpongeBob-Over the Hedge crossover back when I was going through a SpongeBob phase, but I eventually abandoned that and decided on something more original. The plot is this:

    One day, when Hammy is collecting nuts, he is suddenly captured by Stevenson (the late Edward Herrmann), a taxidermist/poacher who believes in “survival of the fittest” to such dangerous ends that he believes humans are destined to be superior in survival to animals, as revenge for being attacked as a young adult. He is essentially a Cruella de Vil-Van Pelt hybrid and just as ruthless, so much so that he makes the Verminator and Gladys look like animal rights activists. Stevenson is eager to capture and stuff a rare red squirrel, and he believes Hammy is his target, the Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab. However, just before Stevenson is about to kill Hammy in his mansion headquarters, a band of his other would-be victims trigger the alarm and Hammy bites Stevenson’s hand very hard and escapes with the gang. While making his escape and subsequent journey home, he investigates the capture of various animals and realizes that Stevenson is absolutely relentless in his hunt for Hammy. He soon befriends one of the escapees (whom I shall call Marshall and would be voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley, from “Princess and the Frog”) and they both encounter numerous obstacles, including a con artist weasel/muskrat (Christoph Waltz), all while trying to remain two steps ahead of Stevenson, who is fast on their trail.

    I decided that since this would be a bit more dramatic than Over the Hedge, so too should the scope of it. There would be larger locations, such as Stevenson’s mansion/taxidermy office, the forest, and One challenge was in deciding how much of RJ and Verne were going to be featured. With the sad passing of Garry Shandling, if this had been made now, there would have to be some explanation of why Verne would be absent. If it had been made just after Over the Hedge, they might have smaller roles than in that film, but still be very important to the story. Another problem was about how best to balance the comedy with the drama, but the Chaplin movies were a source of inspiration, since they featured such fine balance between the two. In terms of filmmakers, David Burgess, who was an animator on Hammy, would serve as director, with Karey Kirkpatrick writing the screenplay and the late James Horner writing the music. For me, what worked best about this was how Hammy would be a more grounded character than usual, since this is an intense and serious situation for him, in that he might get captured by Stevenson again or even killed. I didn’t just want to see Hammy do a 90-minute burpfest; I thought he was capable of a wider range of emotions and even body language, but I mean no disrespect to T Lewis and Michael Fry, the original creators, who might have been brought on again as consultants. His speed could be put to good use, and such props as the boomerang would be used for various plot points.

    Whoa, is this a mouthful. Just thought I would express my thoughts on this side project and share with some people.

  • Yaseen Fawzi

    UPDATED COMMENT:
    I really like this movie a lot. I haven’t read the original comic strip all that much, but I still appreciate the satirical elements, the stunning animation, and attacks on consumerism, especially with “enough just isn’t enough.” Oh, and the Ben Folds songs are catchy, too. What I also enjoy the most are the characters, in particular the relationship between RJ and Verne, as well as the other animals, who are brimming with personality. However, I became particularly enamored with the character of Hammy. He is someone who is just so lovable and has a unique mindset in the way he sees things, and his scenes are pure gold. In short, it’s my most underrated DreamWorks movie. Although Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time that a sequel wasn’t likely due to the film performing slightly below expectations, that hasn’t stopped me from conceiving an idea for a follow-up, in this case a spin-off starring Hammy.

    I had originally conceived it as a kind of SpongeBob-Over the Hedge crossover back when I was going through a SpongeBob phase, but I eventually abandoned that and decided on something more original. The plot is this:

    One day, when Hammy is collecting nuts, he is suddenly captured by Stevenson (the late Edward Herrmann), a taxidermist/poacher who believes in “survival of the fittest” to such dangerous ends that he believes humans are destined to be superior in survival to animals, as revenge for being attacked as a young adult. He is essentially a Cruella de Vil-Van Pelt hybrid and just as ruthless, so much so that he makes the Verminator and Gladys look like animal rights activists. Stevenson is eager to capture and stuff a rare red squirrel, and he believes Hammy is his target, the Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab. However, just before Stevenson is about to kill Hammy in his mansion headquarters, a band of his other would-be victims trigger the alarm and Hammy bites Stevenson’s hand very hard and escapes with the gang. While making his escape and subsequent journey home, he investigates the capture of various animals and realizes that Stevenson is absolutely relentless in his hunt for Hammy. He soon befriends one of the escapees (whom I shall call Marshall and would be voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley, from “Princess and the Frog”) and they both encounter numerous obstacles, including a con artist weasel/muskrat (Christoph Waltz), all while trying to remain two steps ahead of Stevenson, who is fast on their trail.

    I decided that since this would be a bit more dramatic than Over the Hedge, so too should the scope of it. There would be larger locations, such as Stevenson’s mansion/taxidermy office, the forest, and a cave. One challenge was in deciding how much of RJ and Verne were going to be featured. With the sad passing of Garry Shandling, if this had been made now, there would have to be some explanation of why Verne would be absent. If it had been made just after Over the Hedge, they might have smaller roles than in that film, but still be very important to the story. Another problem was about how best to balance the comedy with the drama, but the Chaplin movies were a source of inspiration, since they featured such fine balance between the two. In terms of filmmakers, David Burgess, who was an animator on Hammy, would serve as director, with Karey Kirkpatrick writing the screenplay and the late James Horner writing the music. For me, what worked best about this was how Hammy would be a more grounded character than usual, since this is an intense and serious situation for him, in that he might get captured by Stevenson again or even killed. I didn’t just want to see Hammy do a 90-minute burpfest; I thought he was capable of a wider range of emotions and even body language, but I mean no disrespect to T Lewis and Michael Fry, the original creators, who might have been brought on again as consultants. His speed could be put to good use, and such props as the boomerang would be used for various plot points.

    Whoa, is this a mouthful. Just thought I would express my thoughts on this side project and share with some people.

  • I remember seeing this movie at my local theatre and vividly remember watching the Bear scene in the beginning and being terrified as a kid
    Haven’t watched it much again since…
    Maybe might give it another shot given this was a super passionate review of it and really love your reasonings, definitely got the job done on me 🙂

  • Manuel Orozco

    I personally wouldn’t find Over the Hedge all that great but I remember liking it. The only Ben Folds song I care for is Rockin the Suberbs! The commercials gave me the impression that we were in for an even more corny final product. But RJ’s unintentional search for family really surprised me. While we are at it, I slightly outgrew from potty humor in recent years.

  • Amber Dvorak

    First off Ryan, that was a very informative and comprehensive review! I remember seeing parts of this movie (on TV?) once, and don’t recall being all that interested in it. Maybe it was just the overdone “talking animal” genre that turned me off, but this definitely sounds like it’s worth a full watch! Not relying on pop culture jokes and having genuine character development are both selling points for me.

  • Dan Siciliano

    Aside from the “liar revealed” cliche, I enjoyed this movie for the characters and the animation. And especially the Hammy moments.

  • Yaseen Fawzi

    I really like this movie a lot. I haven’t read the original comic strip all that much, but I still appreciate the satirical elements, the stunning animation, and attacks on consumerism, especially with “enough just isn’t enough.” Oh, and the Ben Folds songs are catchy, too. What I also enjoy the most are the characters, in particular the relationship between RJ and Verne, as well as the other animals, who are brimming with personality. However, I became particularly enamored with the character of Hammy. He is someone who is just so lovable and has a unique mindset in the way he sees things, and his scenes are pure gold. In short, it’s my most underrated DreamWorks movie. Although Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time that a sequel wasn’t likely due to the film performing slightly below expectations, that hasn’t stopped me from conceiving an idea for a follow-up, in this case a spin-off starring Hammy.

    I had originally conceived it as a kind of SpongeBob-Over the Hedge crossover back when I was going through a SpongeBob phase, but I eventually abandoned that and decided on something more original. The plot is this:

    One day, when Hammy is collecting nuts, he is suddenly captured by Stevenson (the late Edward Herrmann), a taxidermist/poacher who believes in “survival of the fittest” to such dangerous ends that he believes humans are destined to be superior in survival to animals, as revenge for being attacked as a young adult. He is essentially a Cruella de Vil-Van Pelt hybrid and just as ruthless, so much so that he makes the Verminator and Gladys look like animal rights activists. Stevenson is eager to capture and stuff a rare red squirrel, and he believes Hammy is his target, the Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab. However, just before Stevenson is about to kill Hammy in his mansion headquarters, a band of his other would-be victims trigger the alarm and Hammy bites Stevenson’s hand very hard and escapes with the gang. While making his escape and subsequent journey home, he investigates the capture of various animals and realizes that Stevenson is absolutely relentless in his hunt for Hammy. He soon befriends one of the escapees (whom I shall call Marshall and would be voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley, from “Princess and the Frog”) and they both encounter numerous obstacles, including a con artist weasel/muskrat (Christoph Waltz), all while trying to remain two steps ahead of Stevenson, who is fast on their trail.

    I decided that since this would be a bit more dramatic than Over the Hedge, so too should the scope of it. There would be larger locations, such as Stevenson’s mansion/taxidermy office, the forest, and a cave. One challenge was in deciding how much of RJ and Verne were going to be featured. With the sad passing of Garry Shandling, if this had been made now, there would have to be some explanation of why Verne would be absent. If it had been made just after Over the Hedge, they might have smaller roles than in that film, but still be very important to the story. Another problem was about how best to balance the comedy with the drama, but the Chaplin movies were a source of inspiration, since they featured such fine balance between the two. In terms of filmmakers, David Burgess, who was an animator on Hammy, would serve as director, with Karey Kirkpatrick writing the screenplay and the late James Horner writing the music. For me, what worked best about this was how Hammy would be a more grounded character than usual, since this is an intense and serious situation for him, in that he might get captured by Stevenson again or even killed. I didn’t just want to see Hammy do a 90-minute burpfest; I thought he was capable of a wider range of emotions and even body language, but I mean no disrespect to T Lewis and Michael Fry, the original creators, who might have been brought on again as consultants. His speed could be put to good use, and such props as the boomerang would be used for various plot points.

    Whoa, is this a mouthful. Just thought I would express my thoughts on this side project and share with some people.