- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

“Shrek” isn’t “Shrek” without Mike Myers’ inimitable brogue. And anyone who suffered through Brad Pitt’s thoroughly modern misfire as “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” understands not every actor is cut out for cartoons.

The animated “Over the Hedge” squares itself with this critic by corralling some A-plus vocal talents to sell its sweet but second-rate story.

The film lets Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Bruce Willis and Wanda Sykes loose, with comical consequences.

It’s easy to imagine “Hedge,” which follows a selfish raccoon who learns the meaning of family, collapsing with lesser talents.

As the action opens, RJ, the rogue raccoon (Mr. Willis), steals a mountain of snack foods from a napping bear (Nick Nolte). When RJ promptly loses the goodies, the bear gives him one week to replace them — or else.

RJ thinks he finds the solution when he stumbles upon a gullible gathering of woodland creatures. The creatures are fresh from a hibernatory nap and ready to forage for food. Their woodland oasis is no more, though. A housing development has sprung up in their absence, leaving them without a supply of vittles.

Not so, RJ tells them. The ‘burbs are teeming with food if you know where to look and you steer clear of the humans.

He hopes to pocket plenty of grub himself to save his own hide.

The animals’ unofficial leader, a pragmatic turtle named Verne (Garry Shandling), isn’t buying RJ’s story. He’d rather make do with what forestland is left than put his friends in harm’s way.

He’s a pretty smart turtle.

The homeowners soon hire the Verminator (Thomas Haden Church) to flush them out permanently. RJ must set aside his scheme to save his new friends from a horrible fate.

Midway through “Hedge,” it dawns on us just how slight a tale we’re being told. Even the animation, though dutifully crisp, isn’t likely to wow audiences as “Shrek” or “Finding Nemo” routinely did.

That’s where the cavalry comes in.

It’s depressing that Mr. Shandling’s best film role to date comes as an animated tortoise, but it’s the rare part that taps his milquetoast delivery. Miss Sykes sasses her way through as a proud skunk, and Mr. Carell proves his range as a caffeinated squirrel.

Best of all is William Shatner, riffing on his constipated line readings as a possum with a penchant for faking his own death.

“Hedge” treats older viewers to several smart jabs at urban development, all of which work surprisingly well in the context of a kiddie movie. A montage comparing how animals and humans deal with food is a delight unto itself, snarky and razor sharp in its telling.

The film’s few action sequences, by comparison, fall mostly flat.

“Over the Hedge” isn’t nearly as good as “Shrek” or “Toy Story,” but thanks to a wonderful cast, it isn’t a clunker like “Robots,” either.

***

TITLE: “Over the Hedge”

RATING: PG (Slapstick violence and threatening sequences that could frighten children)

CREDITS: Directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick. Written by Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton and Mr. Kirkpatrick.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.overthehedgemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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