- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Way over the cyber-Hedge

Computer-generated critters continue to invade movie-theater screens. The latest group — from DreamWorks’ “Over the Hedge” — already have proved their box-office worth and easily can claim to be part of one of the coolest spots in cyberspace.

The movie’s official Web site (www.overthehedgemovie.com) gives children a ridiculous amount of on-screen and away-from-the-computer activities as they visit a quartet of locales within the suburban subdivision of El Rancho Camelot Estates.

Each area comes to life through a mix of music, sound effects, narration, loads of animation and actual scenes from the movie, and each contains games, information, character biographies and downloads.

First, a stop at RJ’s Headquarters offers an introduction to five of the film’s lead animals via a video snippet. Visitors can look into the raccoon’s golf bag full of useless items culled from suburbanites’ homes. They also will find the Save the Forest challenge where, through three difficulty levels, they can play a classic game of Whack-a-Mole, pounding human villains instead of moles.

Next, a visit to the pest controller’s area, the Verminator, offers a look at some of the torture-chamber-type tools of his trade and a way to hear about his qualifications through a voice-mail message.

The game tied to the killer, Laser Power, is not a traditional challenge, but a hilarious time-waster. The visitor uses a laser pointer to drive Hammy the squirrel nuts, making him chase the beam while he offers a few of his witticisms.

One of the best-looking maze games I have seen can be found in the official area of the El Rancho Camelot Estates and has the player guide Verne the turtle back to the forest.

Also in this area, which is guarded by the president of the homeowners association, Gladys Sharp, is a list of resident regulations and the Sounds of Suburbia, which unleashes a bunch of noises and audio bytes from the film.

The final place is devoted to the Trail Guide Gals, who love to sell cookies. They present a handbook on woodland creatures, a photo collection from their latest sale of baked goods and the game Food, Food, Food, which taxes the player to match consumable items in a “Concentration”-like challenge.

Along with all the site’s activities is another set of section icons located on each page. Just a few highlights include Games and Activities, which contains a couple of downloadable PDF books and a really informative Behind the Scenes section that overwhelms with animated presentations on the making of the movie, embellished by storyboards, cast interviews and a visual design gallery.

Additionally, a click on the “Feed Vincent” sign leads visitors to another challenge as they must scour the Web site to find 10 pieces of food for the ravenous bear. Those who successfully acquire all of the morsels, placed in a shiny red wagon, unlock a surprise.

Cyber-audiences may not know that the “Over the Hedge” film is based on an 11-year-old comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis. A link from the site leads to an area on Comics.com (www.comics.com) devoted to the strip and gives visitors access to a video interview with the creators, free wallpaper and the chance to read 30 days worth of Over the Hedge.

The movie site also continues the fun away from its pages as it acts as a portal to other companies involved with the promotions associated with the movie.

A link to the cyber-home of the DVD game company BEqual (www.bequal.com) is the first stop, and it leads to a demo of the company’s Over the Hedge game. Movie characters narrate a wacky Moments in Human History challenge while the player answers multiple-choice and true/false questions. Other demos at the BEqual site include Shrek Totally Tangled Tales, Madagascar Animal Trivia and the Bible DVD Game.

A click on the Activision logo gives visitors access to the video-game company’s site, where they can find a 184-megabyte PC demo of the multiple platform Over the Hedge game. Clever players must first click on a younger member of the porcupine family to initiate the download.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for The Washington Times’ Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washingtontimes.com/familytimes/romperroom.htm.

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