Over the Hedge Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick

Over the Hedge Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick
After the recent deluge of truly terrible animated kid pix, Over the Hedge comes as a mild surprise. Based ever so loosely on the comic strip of the same name, it manages to speak to the kids in the audience while not being overtly insulting to the intelligence of the adults — and compared to its contemporaries, has markedly better animation.

Bruce Willis provides the voice of a raccoon beholden to a vicious bear (Nick Nolte) for all the foodstuffs swiped from his cave; meanwhile, a group of animals awake from hibernation to discover themselves surrounded by urban sprawl. It doesn’t take long for the ring-tailed schemer to see how the befuddled fauna can help his situation, and despite a worrisome turtle (Garry Shandling) who acts as leader, he diverts them into collecting necessary items from suburban marks. Complications ensue when our trashcan bandit begins to feel for the woodland patsies he’s ruthlessly exploiting.

The jokes aren’t exactly unexpected and the family-themed intrigue can get a bit gooey, but mostly this gets on with its raid on suburbia with a small modicum of wit and a certain amount of visual flair. Just when you think it’s run out of gas, it jerks back to life with a well-choreographed bit of chaos or a surprising element of design. And while Alison Janney’s paranoid homeowner character is a tad obvious, the film still towers over its admittedly puny competition.

This is a big improvement over stinkers like Madagascar and Ice Age: The Meltdown, and while it won’t save your life it won’t do it any serious damage, either. Take the kids and count your blessings. (Dreamworks)