Based on the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis, “Over the Hedge” is the latest animated adventure from Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks studios.

Spring has sprung in the forest and a group of foragers including Verne the turtle (Shandling), Stella the skunk (Sykes), and Hammy the squirrel (Carell) are slowly emerging from hibernation.

Much to their horror they soon discover that the forest has been nearly completely destroyed while they have been enjoying their annual sleepathon.

Now, all that remains is a small square of woodland, surrounded by a tall hedge and a sprawling housing development.

With no forest left there’s no way the gang will be able to find enough food to see them through the next winter … until wily racoon RJ (Willis) turns up and introduces them to the delights of sugar-filled soft drinks and cheesy nachos.

While the main message of the film focuses on the importance of family - which has been repeated ad nauseam by now - “Over the Hedge” also addresses weighty issues such as consumerism, global warming and obesity.

One example of the film’s environmental undertones can be seen when RJ tries to explain what a car is to his fellow forest dwellers: “That is an SUV. Humans use them to get around because they're slowly losing their ability to walk”. Looking admiringly at the huge vehicle the animals say: “Oooh! How many humans fit in there?” to which he replies: “Usually one”.

Furthermore, apart from the obvious message about suburban America slowly eating away at its natural habitat, there are some tasty lines like: “Animals eat to live, humans live to eat” and “for humans enough is never enough” that mock the increasingly gluttonous outlook of the “civilised” West.

There is also a witty attack on junk food manufacturers late on when Hammy the squirrel is given an energy drink with explosive consequences. However, the majority of the young audience are unlikely to pick up on these subtle messages and, although there are no direct product placements, kids are likely to come out of the cinema pleading to have a pack of crisps like the cute hamster or a fizzy drink like the crazy squirrel.

And even if they’ve only had one of the “slow-release energy bars” included in promotional packs handed out before preview screenings of the film, the noise of the screaming kids all round is likely to push you “Over the Edge”.

Fans of Hammy the squirrel will be glad to find a brand new short film specially created for this special edition DVD, which sees the hyper rodent trying unsuccessfully to outsmart a boomerang.

Elsewhere there is a lively talk-track from directors Tim Johnson & Karey Kilpatrick and producer Bonnie Arnold, and plenty of featurettes to keep both old and young amused. As well as interviews with the entire voice cast, there are also drawing lessons, set-top games, pop-up animal facts and printable activities accessible via DVD-ROM. A spoof infomercial, voiced by Thomas Hayden Church completes the package.

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After recent disappoints such as “The Wild” and “Madagascar” this latest effort from DreamWorks restores some faith in the animal animation genre.

Rating: U
Starring: Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wands Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Thomas Hayden Church, Eugene Levy, Avril Lavigne, Omid Djalili
Directed by:
Extras: Hammy's Boomerang Adventure (with optional audio commentary)!, Audio commentary, Verm-Tech Institute Infomercial: hilarious spoof inviting viewers into the glamour world of suburban pest extermination, Behind The Hedge featurette, Meet The Cast, The Tech of Over The Hedge featurette, DreamWorks Kids, Animal Fun Facts: Critter 411 - a look at the real life counterparts, Animator 101: Learn To Draw "Hammy" - a drawing lesson with Supervising Animator David Burgess, Favourite scenes locator, Set-top games: 'Backyard Obstacle Course' and 'Acorn Toss', DVD-ROM Activities: an assortment of creative activities and printables

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