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Some Praise for "Over the Hedge" (2006) / Notes About Cynicism Lite

Every once in awhile - like maybe every eighteen months or so - I get a heavy movie craving for Over the Hedge.


If you don't remember this one or you never saw it, it's the animated DreamWorks flick about a bunch of forest critters who band together to steal junk food from the suburbs, led by an asshole raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis and a neurotic turtle voiced by Garry Shandling.

Over the Hedge does well with all the things you hope to get out of an animated kids' feature.  The animation is smooth, detailed, and gorgeous, the voice acting is solid, the plot's entertaining, and there's actually a good amount of jokes that work.  But I think the reason why I keep thinking about it so regularly is because of its cynicism.

That may be too strong a word to use.  Perhaps "sarcasm" or simply "social awareness."  Maybe "Cynicism Lite."

Last week I complained about how The Interview was not terribly good satire because the few sociopolitical jokes it made were to obvious.  So, it may seem a little bit hypocritical of me to say that Over the Hedge is "good" satire - especially since OtH has its characters talking directly to the audience about consumerism and capitalist glutton.

The main difference, I think, is in the audience.  The Interview was intended for adults, who ostensibly would be intelligent and capable of understanding subtlety.  Over the Hedge is meant for little kids.  As a general rule, if your target audience is incapable of masturbation, then it's okay to make your message a little more pointed.

Its criticisms of a culture based on excess and waste are important from an environmental and political perspective.  But there are literary and critical thinking aspects here that deserve praise; Over the Hedge is a great example of a kids' film that helps to build interpretive, self-cognitive, and comedic skills.

It may sound like I'm overstating things, but think about it.  How many (American) family movies feature characters who live just like the audience?  How many movies are about Average American Families who drive SUVs and go to the mall and watch football and hate going to school?  Most of them.  Of those films, how many try to contextualize that life?  Almost none.

Being able to take a step back and look at cause and effect relationships is one of the cornerstones of critical thinking, but most media for kids doesn't try to explore that beyond the most basic steps required to move a plot forward.  It's even rarer to find something that tries to use that for sarcastic effect and rarer still to use it for critical effect.

The end result is that you end with a lot of people who simply don't understand jokes.  You know how every other week some tabloid will print something that's clearly bullshit, or maybe The Onion will be snarky, or maybe a B-List celebrity will tweet something in passing that was meant to be a minor jab, and then it seems like America suddenly explodes?  It's because there are people out there who didn't get the basic skills that Cynicism Lite offers.

I think I keep going back to Over the Hedge because it's such an accessible way to develop an acute sense of humor, and I find that utterly charming.  It (or at least, a movie like it) is as much required viewing for a kid as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is required reading.

So, I guess my advice for parents everywhere is: Turn your kids into smartasses.  You might not like it at first, but as it turns out, being a smartass is the first step in a long march of progress.