A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 214 – Over the Hedge

Over the Hedge – September 30th, 2010

We watched today’s movie early. Like, as soon as we woke up. Early. This is because today is a busy day. A friend of mine is in town for a single day and we’re meeting for lunch in Boston, and then back home and then out to Boston again for the Ig Nobel Awards this evening. We didn’t want to count on being able to fit a movie in between lunch and the Igs so we grabbed something short to put in this morning and watched it as fast as we could. Which, given that we can’t watch it on fast-forward means it took a little under 90 minutes. That’s how movies work.

I’m not sure what prompted Andy to buy this movie in particular. I mean, it’s not that I object to it (we’ll get to things I object to and I will make myself very clear), it’s just that it’s not a Pixar movie. It’s Dreamworks. And while we do own a fair number of Dreamworks Animation movies, Pixar’s the studio that gets the release = buy Pavlovian response in our household. So I’m not sure what it was specifically that made him pick this one out of the list. Was it the 3D animation? Was it the cast? Was it something he heard from someone at work? Was it that it was on sale during a store closing and he figured why not? I don’t know. I’ll ask when I’m done writing.

First, let’s talk about some issues I’ve got. So. This is a movie about a bunch of forest animals who, upon waking up after a winter’s hibernation, find that their little nook of forest has been hemmed in by a hedge and surrounded by suburbia. At a loss for what to do for food, they end up listening to a con-man raccoon. Now, I prefer to think of the character of RJ as a modern trickster in this tale. Tricksters have a long history of animal representation and raccoons seem tailor made for the role. But that’s not a problem. That’s a good thing. My problem is in how very much of a sledgehammer the movie is on issues of modern human consumerism. Of course there’s the junk food RJ tricks the animals into stealing for him. That’s a major part of the plot. But the entire suburban landscape is built specifically to make the point that we’re all filthy piggish primates. I get it. I do. The Homeowner’s Association president griping at someone that their lawn is a half inch too high, the cracks about SUVs holding only one person, the lawn gnomes. I get it, really. But I guess that’s the movie’s schtick, so that’s how it was going to be.

My other issue is Stella. Or rather, how Stella is dealt with by the movie. There are several characters in the film. There’s RJ, the trickster raccoon, who cons Verne (turtle), Hammy (squirrel), Ozzie and Heather (opossums), and Lou and Penny and their three kids (porcupines), and Stella. She is a skunk, and sure that makes sense, given the whole backyard vermin thing the movie has going on. But she’s a shy skunk who hides behind a shock of hair and is totally self-defeating. Why not make her confident? There are two female animals in the main cast, and the porcupine kids are far more visible than either of the parents. Stella’s really it, and then they do this whole Miss Congeniality meets Warner Brothers makeover on her and suddenly she’s not shy anymore! I will, however, give the movie credit for giving Wanda Sykes as Stella some great moments after the makeover, turning it a little on its side. But I still think it could have been handled better. The trouble is, I wouldn’t expect it to be handled better. It would be nice, but it’s predictable that it’s not.

Predictability is really the big issue. There’s not a whole lot unexpected in this movie. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe someone who hasn’t seen the Futurama episode “Three Hundred Big Boys” would have been caught by surprise by the ending. Maybe the anti-consumerism stuff wouldn’t be as much of an anvil to a kid? I’m not sure. It’s certainly fun, even if it is easy to figure out just what’s going to go down. The point of the movie doesn’t seem to have ever been to bring something totally new and never seen before to the theater. It’s not trying to be revolutionary. It’s a movie about animals kids will recognize doing funny things and looking at our world from their perspective. It’s the sort of trickster tale I like best, where the trickster plays his jokes and gets a laugh, but then has to deal with some consequences. It’s slapstick and silly and it takes good advantage of having a great voice cast with people like Allison Janey, Gary Shandling, Bruce Willis and the fantastic William Shatner (he plays one of the opossums and gets to very dramatically fake his own death a lot).

I really did enjoy the movie. I wish it hadn’t tried to bludgeon me with a message and done something more original with Stella, but beyond the message and the makeup, it’s a silly movie with a lot of good solid jokes. There are puns, verbal jokes, referential humor and plenty of physical laughs. The animation is pretty and the facial expressions on the animals are great, especially Hammy the squirrel. I did enjoy Tiger, the cat who lives in the house the animals infiltrate, and not just because my family did once own a cat similar to him, who was convinced he was a fearsome outdoor beast until he’d get outside and OMG MUD. I liked the porcupine kids and I’ve always loved Allison Janey. Message aside, it’s a fluff piece, but fun nonetheless.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Over the Hedge

September 30, 2010

Over the Hedge

In the spirit of Ice Age comes this hyper-kinetic craziness. It’s a computer animated film with a concentration on Warner Brother’s style slapstick humor. (Indeed there’s a bit near the end that felt to me like a direct Pepe LePew reference.) I had watched the beginning of this movie during my lunch breaks at work one time and found it fun, so I picked it up when we had it on sale one day but never got around to watching the rest.

The plot in some ways reminds me of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. R.J. is a raccoon with a golf bag full of useful gadgets stolen from the human world. In desperation and hunger one day he steals some food from a bear he knows. Actually, he steals all of it, and the red wagon and blue cooler as well. Vincent is somewhat perturbed and swears that unless R.J. can recover all of the stolen supplies before the next full moon he will wreak bloody vengeance.

To achieve this feat R.J. cons an innocent group of woodland creatures that he comes upon. These are an odd collection of beasts who all live together in a log in the forest, and who wake up after a winter’s hibernation to find that their idyllic patch of woods has become surrounded by endless tracts of suburban houses. They are a timid turtle, a hyper-kinetic squirrel, a sassy skunk, a pair of possums, a pair of porcupines (with mid-western accents) and their brood. None of them have any experience with humans or suburbia, and so they are easily led by the world-weary and canny R.J., who acts as a combination guide and mentor in the peculiar ways of human beings.

What attracted me to the movie is the great cast they have playing all the characters. As with yesterday’s movie we have Garry Shandling stealing every scene – this time as Verne the turtle. Bruce Willice is the center of the movie as the resourceful R.J. with his magic bag of tricks. Steve Carrell is the big crowd pleaser as Hammy the squirrel. And William Shatner is great fun as the prone-to-ridiculous-overacting possum Ozzie. I feel slightly bad, however, for Wanda Sykes as Stella, as she plays a fairly stereotypical sassy black woman. It’s not her fault, it’s just lazy writing and she got typecast into the role. Somewhat puzzling is the casting of Averil Lavigne as Ozzie’s daughter Heather. Her character seems to be lampooning Averil’s public image – full of vapid “yeah whatever” utterances that I think are intended to be mocking.

The whole thing is very much played for laughs. It’s more cartoonish than most animated movies these days tend to be. As I said before it’s kind of a throwback to the days of Warner Brothers and Tex Avery. Things like R.J.’s golf bag (which reminds me of Secret Squirrel’s jacket – it always has just the right tool for the job instantly at hand.) Things like the common cartoon device of the turtle with the removable shell. Things like every skunk joke they make at Stella’s expense. They might as well have given the balding exterminator at the end of the movie an Elmer Fudd accent and had done with it.

You feel at times that the movie has something more to say. Something about rampant consumerism and human wastefulness, for example. (And let me go on record as saying how pleased I was that the film makers chose to create all their own brands rather than inserting product placement from our real world. It was jarring in Antz and it would have been absolutely omnipresent and unbearable in this movie.) There’s also a message about family and sticking together. (If this had been a Pixar movie, for example, you can bet we’d know a lot more about what happened to R.J.’s family and why he is so alone at the start of this movie. There are references to it, and I think it’s supposed to drive his character, but it’s kind of sidelined by all the comedy and I’m not sure if we’re actually intended to take what he says about his family seriously.)

Mostly, though, it’s about the laughs. There might be a tender moment here and there, but then there’s a chase scene or Hammy running around being manic or a joke about Ozzy over-acting and we forget the sentimentality in favor of more silliness. It has a fun climactic scene that steals its resolution from one of our favorite Futurama episodes. It has a somewhat distracting grunge inspired soundtrack of custom songs during the montage scenes. It has a lot of frenetic activity and very little actual plot or resolution.

I’d say overall it is a fun but inconsequential movie. I enjoyed it well enough without every really caring about it. Mostly I watched it for Garry Shandling and William Shatner, and let the rest just kind of flow around me.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment