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OVER THE HEDGE (article first published : 2006-07-17)

Based on a syndicated comic strip of the same title, Over the Hedge is a new film from Dreamworks, the studio that gave us Shrek and, if not in the same league as the Oscar-winning ogre adventure, is an entertaining romp for the holidays featuring a fine line-up of voice talent and some exemplary computer-animation.

The voice talent is headed by Bruce Willis as crafty racoon RJ, a character for which Jim Carrey was reportedly first signed up, although whispers have it that the producers originally wanted Bill Murray.

RJ finds himself in a pickle when his plan to steal a huge pile of junk food from the cave of a hibernating bear (the voice of Nick Nolte) is botched, the nosh goes missing and he is given just one week to replace the goods. Or else.

So he searches for some forest colleagues and tricks them into lending a paw to raid the pantries and rubbish bins of the suburb that, during the winter, has mushroomed on the other side of a massive hedge surrounding the woods.

These assorted creatures include wise turtle Verne (Garry Shandling), a father-daughter possum team (William Shatner and rocker Avril Lavigne), a no-nonsense skunk called Stella (Wanda Sykes) and a scene-stealing, hyperactive squirrel named Hammy (Steve Carell).

All are newly turned on to junk food after having been knocked out by the taste and smell of a packet of cheese-flavoured crisps, so RJ discovers they need little persuading to seek out the humans' leftovers.

But, of course, it's not plain sailing and dangers include traffic, skateboarders, hockey players and the Cruella De Vil-like Gladys (Allison Janney).

The head of the homeowners' association, Gladys hires pest control expert Dwayne (Thomas Haden Church), also known as The Verminator, to rid her of the furries "as inhumanely as possible". His actions include setting up complicated traps and even an infrared field.

Although the plot tends to spread thin towards the end, there is enough humour and fun to be found in this film to keep youngsters of all ages entertained - and their parents from nodding off.

Co-directed by Tim Johnson, director of Antz, and Karey Kirkpatrick who wrote Chicken Run, Over the Hedge not only offers some realistic animals (the depiction of computer-generated fur just gets better and better with each new film using animals) but also offers some food for thought, however subtle, about urban sprawl. Rating 7/10 Billy Suter




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