Opening 6 Jul 2006
Small wild animals are the better species in DreamWorks’ newest animated film. R.J. the racoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) owes Vincent the bear (Nick Nolte) a truck full of fast food, payable within a week. R.J. recruits the help of possums and porcupines, a skunk, and a squirrel. In spite of the misgivings of Vern the tortoise (Garry Shandling), they follow R.J. over the hedge to the larders of the humans who live in abundance in synthetic suburbs. It takes only one possum in this sterile place to throw the neighbors into hysterics. The self-appointed head of the neighborhood is a grim, perfectly coiffed, trim, single, career-woman, control freak (similarities to living persons, e.g., Condolezza Rice, are not intended). She calls the pest exterminator, Dr. Dennis, who is a parody of Mr. Incredible (who is a parody of Superman). The possum plays dead in a spurt of dramatic acting worthy of an Oscar. The cat falls in love with the skunk. The animals lose sight of family values and succumb to the mass consumption of TV and marshmallows, just as Vern predicted. There is a grand action scene when Dr. Dennis’ weapon of mass destruction, “legal only in the state of Texas,” backfires.
Besides pure American-style entertainment, there are several moral lessons: The environment suffers from consumerism and wastefulness. Fast food is bad for you. Families provide an important network against loneliness. Bears are tricky. Jeffrey Katzenberg, president of DreamWorks, said at the 2006 Cannes film festival that, “Animated films are having a renaissance; a good story is the most important element; the best comedies come out of the world of animation these days; and many cultures have long histories of describing humans through the eyes of animals.” All of this is true in this fun film for the whole family. (Becky Tan)