Watching Over the Hedge, this month's computer-animated, famous-person-voiced blockbuster about talking animals who get into frenetic Buster Keaton-like conundrums, I took one or two notes (I usually only take a few). And now, as I go back though my notebook, I realize of those two notes, one reads: "Cute turtle."
And the other:
Allow me to explain:
The turtle is Verne the turtle. He is voiced by Garry Shandling in that worrying Shandling whine. Over the Hedge is from DreamWorks, which had Madagascar this time last year, and in only 12 months the textures on these digital beasts have grown exponentially more nuanced; when Verne emerges from his woodland log after hibernating with a squirrel (Steve Carell), a skunk (Wanda Sykes), and a porcupine family, I swear there's a teensy discoloration where Verne slept too long on his shell.
Verne looks like a rubber toy.
But so do wet turtles.
Verne meets RJ the raccoon, who gets the stealthy growl of Bruce Willis. RJ promised a bear (Nick Nolte, all growl) he'd repay him the food he stole during hibernation. RJ asks Verne and his woodland fellas to help forage the food - but in a shystery Robert Preston-Music Man kind of self-serving fashion, which involves sneaking into the ominous new McMansion development that sprang up during hibernation. Which brings us to my other scribble - "genocide."
Over the Hedge is overly familiar, solidly competent (if totally redundant), blandly scripted, narrowly conceived, and your kids will like it this weekend and probably forget it six minutes later. And yet, the vocal casting is clever, and when was the last time you saw a computer-generated animated feature about animals concerned they're being driven out of their natural habitats and into (gulp) extinction?
Ice Age: The Meltdown.
Still, there's a more sincere commitment here to dealing with, in this case, overconsumption and suburban sprawl and what it does to the critters at its margins.
Not like your kid cares a lick about property values and homeowner associations - issues that pop up repeatedly, thanks to the shrill digital adults in the neighborhoods - but it's a nice change of pace from the endless pop culture nods and feigns to hipness that leave so many kids' flicks these days instantly dated.
This is devoid of those.
And product placements.
Over the Hedge eventually settles on half-hearted messages of family - these films get as repetitive as B-westerns - and the elaborate forages recall every big sequence in practically every non-Pixar CGI flick made in the last decade.
What might sneak into your child's consciousness, though, is the way Verne and friends (adapted from the comic strip of the same name) don't want to eat your pizza and burritos but our demand for bigger homes and bigger garages has forced them into our garbage cans.
It's not a bad lesson.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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