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May 19, 2006 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 19, 2006 |

Here is the genius of Ben Folds: Only a man with his melodic sensibilities could inject even a modicum of inspiration and energy into an otherwise ordinary computer-animated feature (a somewhat tired medium, despite its relative infancy) and, more importantly for fans of Folds’ pop ideology, he may be the only songwriter of this generation who could pen lyrics that are both conventionally appropriate for a 9-year-old target audience and still mildly subversive enough for their adult tagalongs. Folds has managed to pull the trifecta here: Collect a paycheck from the Hollywood Industrial Complex without selling out; provide some jalapeno bite and sugary harmony to prepackaged, MSG-heavy animated tofu; and gently shut the door on the collective (fat) asses of the suburban parents on their way out — indeed, it is “One Down and 3.6,” on a much broader scale.

I’m not sure how Folds got mixed up in the production of a DreamWorks film, though I’d imagine it has something to do with friend and collaborator William Shatner’s presence as the voice of Ozzie, a possum who revels in playing dead but, in any event, it’s a congruous arrangement, in part because of the similarities between the themes of the Folds’ songwriting (a detached insider’s semi-ironic rejection of American suburbia) and the message behind Over the Hedge (a rejection of the proverbial hare’s [here played by a raccoon] suburban gourmandizing in favor of the cautionary tortoise’s approach to life), even if the execution of the latter fails to some degree. It’s hard to say if it was intentional or not (my guess is that it wasn’t) but, in some ways, the screenwriters of Over the Hedge have actually managed to synthesize Ben Fold’s “All U Can Eat,” into an easily digestible, G-rated anti-gluttonous feature (“They give no fuck / Just as long as there’s enough … for them”).

To wit: Over the Hedge follows the foraging travails of RJ the raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) at the tail end of spring. After a fruitless attempt to retrieve the last package of Cheez-Its from a vending machine, RJ unsuccessfully attempts to pilfer the snack-product stash of a hibernating bear, Vincent (Nick Nolte); in the process, however, he wakes the bear and loses the stockpile, eliciting a threat on his life unless can replace Vincent’s Ruffles within a week. In his efforts to restock, however, he runs across a family of animals and their turtle patriarch, Verne (Gary Shandling), who have just stirred from their winter slumber to discover a hedge that imprisons the forest-friendly rodents, separating them from what Folds would term Jesusland.

RJ convinces the critters (a skunk, some possums, and a squirrel) to forego their usual hoard of nuts and bark in favor of amassing a Frito-Lay and Krispy Kreme stockpile for the winter, instilling in them the knowledge that, “If it tastes good, it must be good for you.” (This is also where the team of screenwriters take some gentle jabs at middle-American consumerism while Folds’ “Heist,” plays in the background [“Where pink flamingos grow/Diet soda flows/and what you take magically regenerates on supermarket shelves”]). As it turns out, however, the “pink primates” on the other side of the hedge aren’t all that accommodating, particularly evil Gladys (Allison Janney), the president of the development’s home owner’s association. She hires a bumbling Verminator (Thomas Haden Church) to employ an arsenal of weapons-grade animal traps to annihilate the scavengers as inhumanely as possible, a strategy that, expectedly, backfires.

Unfortunately, as well-intentioned as Over the Hedge’s (slightly hypocritical) underlying message is, and despite the strength of some the voice talent (specifically, Shandling, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O’Hara), the movie’s energy level never really surpasses mildly lethargic, except when Steve Carell’s sorely underused and manic squirrel, Hammy (the counterpart to Ice Age’s Scrat) appears onscreen. Indeed, it is Hammy, along with Folds’ music, that manages to save Over the Hedge from being yet another slow-witted cousin to the already imbecilic Madagascar, though Hedge’s animation is at least on par with the earlier, less eye-catching Pixar productions.

There is little doubt that anyone under 11 would enjoy the hell out of Over the Hedge — it’s got enough animated gee-wizardry to keep almost any child’s attention for the full running-time — but then again, the other kid-friendly fare out there (Hoot, The Wild, and The Shaggy Dog) hasn’t exactly set the bar higher than the entertainment value of rooting around in one’s nose for 90 minutes. Insofar as movies aimed at children go, however, this is high on a list of films I wouldn’t mind suffering through and, if you’re a fan of Folds, the new satire-rich version of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” that plays over the credits is probably worth the price of admission, though your money might be better spent purchasing the soundtrack (where this “Suburbs” remix features Shatner in full-on spoken-word mode). Notwithstanding Folds’ contributions to Over the Hedge, (and “Still” fully deserves an Oscar for song-writing), I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that we fans are not quite ready to send him over to Randy Newman Land just yet.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in a faux-Marxist college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

"Rock This Bitch"

Over the Hedge / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 19, 2006 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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