"Over the Hedge," the latest star-studded, computer-animated, talking-animal extravaganza, is an indictment of the same sort of suburban overconsumption that the film encourages through its marketing.
The cheeky family comedy, from the people behind "Antz" and "Chicken Run," wags its finger at all of us humans for buying more food then we need — fast food, junk food, food we have delivered because we're too lazy to leave the comfort of our cookie-cutter houses and drive to the grocery store in our gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, which, like the ever-growing encroachment of suburbia, are contributing to the destruction of the environment the cuddly "Over the Hedge" creatures call home.
We have too much stuff, the film is trying to say, and we continue to acquire more stuff.
And yet, off-screen, "Over the Hedge" simultaneously embraces a number of companies that provide such stuff and are helping promote the film through advertising. Wal-Mart has made the movie the centerpiece of its summer marketing campaign. There's special "Over the Hedge" packaging on Crunch 'n Munch snacks (that is good stuff, though). And of course, there are "Over the Hedge"-themed kids' meals at Wendy's.
The children who drag their parents to see this movie certainly won't recognize this incongruity. They'll just laugh at the antics of Hammy the squirrel (voiced by Steve Carell), who's hyperactive long before he discovers caffeine. They'll be mesmerized by color and noise watching the frantic slapstick adventures of RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis), Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling) and a skunk (Wanda Sykes) who seems to have named Stella solely for the purpose of setting up "A Streetcar Named Desire" joke. That's the whole point.
(Here's a little taste of the plot: These animals and their buddies have awakened from their winter hibernation to find a giant hedge has been built through the woods, with a sprawl of tract houses on the other side. Crafty RJ, who must pay back an angry bear he stole from, enlists these scavengers to go over the hedge — actually they sneak though it, but whatever — to help him forage amid the trash cans and barbecue pits, with plans to abandon them once he gets what he needs.)
But hopefully adults will be circumspect enough to recognize the manner in which the film talks out of both sides of its computer-animated mouth.
Yes, the fur looks furry and the leaves look leafy and the moon and sun shine down upon all of these smart-alecky animals in an astonishingly realistic way. You have to give credit where credit is due: Under the helm of co-directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick, a lot of people clearly worked very hard on this film with the aid of technology that's come a long way even since the original "Shrek" from 2001.
And while the script (based on the newspaper comic strip "Over the Hedge") isn't so laden with pop-culture references as "Shrek" and a recent slew of inferior animated films like "Shark Tale" and "Hoodwinked," it's still pretty weak. It essentially requires each of the stars to be themselves — or be the persona of themselves we've come to expect — on cue. Willis' raccoon is street-smart and swaggering. Shandling's turtle is neurotic. "Second City TV" alumni Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play a nerdy porcupine couple with a Midwestern sensibility who say things like "jeepers" a lot, just as they have in nearly every Christopher Guest comedy.
Then there is the most obvious art-as-life portrayal: William Shatner as a possum who speaks only in clipped, dramatic fragments, as he does when he instructs his teenage daughter: "Playing. Possum. Is what we. Do." Yeah, it's funny — it's probably the funniest bit of all — but again, we've seen it before.
So where is the originality? And more to the point, what's the point?
If "Over the Hedge" aims solely to entertain, it does so in a way that's mildly amusing but mostly hackneyed. If it aims to instruct, it weakens its own argument with the plethora of product tie-ins.
One of the few humans in the movie, voiced by Allison Janney, is the screechy, greedy, anal-retentive homeowners' association president who's punished in spectacular fashion at the end for her conspicuous consumption.
Whether you buy into what "Over the Hedge" is selling, the joke's on you, too.
"Over the Hedge," a DreamWorks Animation release, is rated PG for some rude humor and mild comic action. Running time: 83 minutes. Two stars out of four.