Things change when you’ve been asleep for five months. At least that’s what a group of forest critters discovers after hibernating the winter away.
Led by Verne the turtle, this “blended family,” which includes porcupines, possums, skunks and squirrels, emerges from its lengthy siesta to find its once-expansive stomping grounds reduced to a single plot in the El Rancho Camelot Estates suburb. More concerned about sticking to the regimen and playing it safe, the paternal Verne advises his crew not to panic but simply to make do with finding food for the winter—only 274 days away—within their now hedge-bound habitat.
Enter RJ, a smooth-talking, charismatic raccoon with a more appealing option for the group. He’s seen what’s over the hedge and knows that humans house enough food year-round to feed an army of woodland dwellers. “We eat to live; these guys live to eat,” the stranger explains to his naive audience. “For humans, enough is never enough.” His suggestion? Take one week to forage the neighborhood and gather what would normally take months.
Verne is reluctant to let his family’s safety be compromised by an outsider, especially one he has suspicions about. But once his friends get a taste of human food—picture squirrels downing bags of Doritos and porcupines getting sugar rushes from soda pop—his objections fall on deaf ears. RJ’s got them hooked and, much to Verne’s chagrin, is winning the bunch over and gradually becoming their new leader.
Of course, Verne’s right. RJ’s not on the up and up. Turns out, he was caught swiping a stash of grub from a black bear but avoided sure death by striking a deal. Now he has one week to replace the stolen goods or else.
While RJ cons the other creatures into securing his own ransom, he’s unprepared for them responding by embracing him as part of the family—an experience the lone ranger has never had before. That makes him begin to think long and hard about whether he should fess up. And it makes it increasingly difficult for him to take his usual route of splitting once the deal’s done.
Indeed, the value of family is emphasized repeatedly via Verne and his assorted clan. Through their love and care for each other, RJ witnesses firsthand the importance of being accepted unconditionally. “That’s what families do—they look out for each other,” explains Verne. Rather than point to independence or material goods, the turtle claims family to be “the gateway to the good life.” He also mentions certain flaws common to most families, such as poor communication, but the movie insists they’re far outweighed by the good.
Within the context of family comes forgiveness, and RJ gets a full dose of it when the group is quick to pardon his conniving ways. They also prepare an elaborate home for the raccoon to welcome him into the family. Even when the group apologizes to Verne for not believing his premonitions about RJ, the turtle sets aside his own feelings of betrayal to find the positive in the swindler. He’s also sincere about doing what’s best for his family (something that RJ commends him for), even if that means him stepping aside as their leader. Convicted about taking food from humans, Verne sets out to “return the things to their rightful owners.”
Father/daughter possums Ozzie and Heather have their differences, and Heather is often embarrassed by her dad’s melodramatic feigning of death (“How many times must I say it: Playing possum is what we do,” he explains. “We die … so that we live”). But after seeing Ozzie’s talents put to use during a daring feat, she has a change of heart, compliments him and later makes him proud by imitating him.
The group commends RJ for his “brilliant leadership” after a successful scavenging mission. They’re also quick to forgive Verne after he apologizes for making some insulting comments. Every group member—including RJ—works to save and help others. Though it’s for an ulterior motive, RJ compliments Stella, a self-critical skunk: “I’m looking on the inside, Stella, and I see a fox.” Even after Stella reveals to a love interest that she’s a skunk and not a cat (as he’s been led to believe), the male comments on liking her as she is. RJ calls the less-than-astute squirrel Hammy a “genius.”
A family praying over their dinner is humorously described by RJ as being at the altar where they worship food. Verne calls RJ the devil. While staging a Shakespearean-like death, Ozzie speaks of “moving toward the light.”
Though not for sexual reasons, Verne’s backside is shown after his shell pops off, prompting a human girl to describe it as a “gross, naked amphibian thing.” Stella flirts with a cat.
An enraged woman refuses police arrest and punches and kicks a pair of officers. She’s taken down with a cop’s pile-drive maneuver. She also tells a bloodthirsty exterminator to dispose of the animals “as inhumanely as possible.” He, in turn, uses devices that, as we see during their test runs, involve blades, spikes, laser disintegration and even nuclear bomb-like explosions (we see the latter activated). He also zaps a bear with a stun baton.
A child’s wagon smashes through fences and winds up airborne. Upon plummeting back to earth, it lands on an SUV, which explodes in spectacular fashion. After being recklessly driven by animals, another vehicle flips over in the air and crashes through a house.
Par for the course for animated movies, animals frequently get tossed around, hit by humans, smashed by various objects and are almost run over by automobiles. A black bear makes numerous threats to kill RJ. He also hits a human and gets porcupine needles stuck in his face. A dragonfly is fried by a bug zapper. Verne is mistaken for a hockey puck by humans, and he narrowly misses getting diced by a set of falling knives. A young girl, in turn, gets struck in the head by a catapulted turtle. Trying to retrieve a snack, RJ whacks a vending machine with a golf club.
A human homeowner kicks Heather violently, leading to a tense moment in which we wonder whether Heather has been killed.
A single “oh my god” accompanies a handful of imitable words that will concern some parents (“butt” gets used, along with “jeez,” “heck,” “dang,” etc.). Verne lashes out at his family, calling them “stupid” for following RJ. He later apologizes for using the harsh term, though, and the way the movie portrays the damaging results of his words, kids see how much words can sting. Dr. Phil uses the term “dirtbag” on TV.
While in a human house, RJ climbs up a wine rack full of bottles. A split-second shot of a print advertisement shows that it mentions merlot.
Young porcupines brag about “hotwiring” a TV to get hundreds of channels, and they play a maniacal driving game called Auto Homicide 3. A vengeful woman tells an exterminator to use a contraband contraption on the animals. Key to the plot is the fact that RJ is a thief and con man, meaning he regularly lies to everyone to save his own fur. (It should be noted, however, that the story’s resolve clearly points out the harm of lying and deceiving others.)
There are sly jokes about Hammy finding his “nuts,” food coming “out the wazoo” (and then getting eaten), animals licking “their privates,” and some general bodily function humor which includes Hammie burping and talking about going “wee-wee.” It’s insinuated that the group puts a cork in Stella’s backside to prevent her from spraying. And overwhelmed with fear, Verne says he “might need to change his shell” before embarking on a mission.
If you’ve seen one animated movie in the past 10 years, you’ve seen ’em all, right? Well, mostly right. Though some Over the Hedge scenes feel cribbed from the likes of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Hoodwinked, this flick’s lovable characters, solid story and witty take on human suburbia stand on their own.
It does contain a smattering of mild crudity and potty humor, but thankfully trims back some of the unpleasant gags that have been a staple in other DreamWorks projects (Shrek, Shark Tale, etc.). Co-director and writer Karey Kirkpatrick explained why: “Sometimes people feel that a G rating is a stigma to commerce,” he told Plugged In. “It becomes associated with Care Bears. When [DreamWorks studio head] Jeffrey Katzenberg was at Disney, their philosophy was ‘We make movies for the child in every adult.’ After leaving, Jeffrey said, ‘I’m going to compete with Disney. I think I need to go make movies for the adult in every child.’ With Shrek and Antz he was going after a demographic that didn’t necessarily go to animated movies. It’s a little big edgier, but it’s not a conscious decision to get 4-year-olds to say ‘butt.’ There’s some places where I can’t mask my inner 9-year-old and my mischievous side, and I will go for certain jokes because they’re fun to go for. But we have kids, too. We’ll put jokes through our own filter and say, ‘I don’t think that’s something I want my kids to hear.'”
Factor in several sweet messages about family and loyalty, great onscreen textures that will likely have tots reaching out to pet the furries, and vivid vocal performances. What you end up with is an animated critter caper that, while certainly not perfect and not even necessarily a classic, is better than average in the clever, creative—and clean—categories.