Whilst it lacks the scripting and sheer mastery of the Pixar films, "Over the Hedge" manages to come up with a fun and simple premise and then fills it with some enjoyable characters and a manic energy that will remind many of the great Looney Tunes cartoons of yesteryear. It, and the better than expected "Ice Age" sequel the other month, come as a welcome relief after a long run of truly awful CG-animated family films like "Shark Tale", "Robots", "Madagascar" and "Chicken Little" which have left an ugly stain on the budding genre.
Hedge's strength lies in various factors, but first and foremost is that it's funny. The comedy comes flying thick and fast, and thank god most of it relies on good old-fashioned slapstick rather than the all too easy route of modern pop culture references. The premise lends itself to some light goofy fun and the film delivers with the assorted cute animal creatures pulling off elaborate heists, feats of daring and assorted con jobs in order to nab food from the manicured human neighbourhood that has enroached upon their territory. Jokes certainly do misfire, or more often just ellicit a giggle than a chortle as they play it all pretty safe, but at times there's a few real belly laughs to be had.
The cast is also strong with Willis as our shady hustler of a fox hero, Garry Shandling as the turtle with a voice of responsibility and reason, Wanda Sykes as a sass-talking skunk, and William Shatner as a possum with an exaggerated sense of the dramatic. Steve Carrell though steals the show as a hyper-active manic squirrel always eager to please. Some greats like Levy, O'Hara and Janney are stuck with underwritten parts unfortunately, but all contribute.
The animation is very good, not photo real but a big step up from some recent fare and the fur is so convincing you just want to reach out and touch it. Humans on the other hand are pretty flat and never more than charicatures, whilst some of the animals (eg. the turtle, the hedgehogs) aren't as well done as others. Where 'Hedge' falls down is its more serious elements. Willis is stuck with a heavy handed moral lesson about being honest, Shandling's whine as the film's straight man makes his frustrating character almost unbearable at points, and the script and score are pretty vanilla.
There's a zippy sense of energy and pace here, and a amiable attempt at good old-fashioned laughs that works better than expected. It's positive but with a dark edge, there's occasional moments of clever satire without being to cynical or self-referential. Ok so it's not one of the greats, but It treads that awkward line of timelessness and relevance with effective ease, and is certainly one of the better films this genre has seen outside of Disney.