Oh my god, it's finally not an agony to post. And look at me, being all "hugely busy at work," so I just now find out.

The June Plan has its first casualty - that is, the first film I would probably not have seen without the extra bump of motivation (that I saw The Omen without this bump speaks volumes against my character): Dreamworks Animation's Over the Hedge Fortunately, it wasn't very bad at all, although it wasn't really great. It does leave me in the position of having to write about a film that everyone has already done to death, which is never much fun.

Even if that hadn't been the case, I don't really know what I would have said. Reviewing an animated Hollywood film is always a bit annoying, because there's no room to discuss the visuals; Over the Hedge pretty much follows the Dreamworks house style without deviation. Meaning that all I can think of to talk about is the story, and film criticism that only treats the story is no film criticism at all.

I will say this: it's markedly better than Shrek, Shrek 2 and I presume their kin, although I haven't seen Madagascar or Shark Tale, and I'd like to keep it that way. The great narrative sin that Dreamworks has always committed, particularly in comparison to Pixar ("in comparison to Pixar" is a handy phrase to keep on hand when discussing CGI features), is that the films are pitched at two levels: the story and goofiness are for the kids, the pop culture and winking sexuality are for the adults. In Pixar, there is only one level, and it appeals to both crowds (as time goes by, however, Pixar is skewing older; the great achievement of The Incredibles is that it's an action-figure-ready cartoon that fundamentally aims at fortysomethings. I'll cut this off, I imagine I'll have more to say after I see Cars this evening). Over the Hedge is the first Dreamworks film to fall more on the Pixar side of this equation; a handful of jokes are going to go straight over the kids' heads, but there's very little of the insidious winking and in-jokiness of its stablemates.

The plot is boilerplate, but aren't they always: a raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) runs afoul of a bear (Nick Nolte), and enlists the help of some woodland creatures who have recently found themselves hemmed-in by suburbia, to acquire a large pile of food. He of course does not tell them of his alterior motive, and so feels guilty when they absorb him into their family, and only their turtle leader (Gary Shandling) senses something is off, and in the end everything is resolved and lessons are learned and we find the unsurprisingly conservative moral that family is everything and the ones you love matter the mostest of all. It's hard to complain about the plot of a cartoon.

Like most recent animation, the premium is on famous voices rather than appropriate voices (a tendency which Pixar mostly avoids, although even they have their slip-ups), although some of them work well enough (Nolte as the bear is an inspired choice; Steve Carell makes for a fine manic squirrel). Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play their A Mighty Wind characters as porcupines, while William Shatner plays...well I don't really know, but he's an opposum, father to Avril Lavigne (!). It's not as distracting as it could be, but it doesn't add much.

It's all cute, and fairly disposable. None of the jokes are barbed enough to stick in the mind for too long, and the situations are achingly familiar (there is one part late on, in which a skunk is made up to look like a cat, that I choose to believe is a conscious homage to the Warner Pepe le Pew shorts). But it's hardly the worst way to spend 80+ minutes, especially with The Da Vinci Code still slinking around theaters.

I will say one short word about the animation. I like the way it looks more than any previous Dreamworks film, although their humans are still grotesque. Fur is well-done, and the backgrounds are all appropriately cartoonish (that is, I think more photorealistic trees would be beside the point). But there's still a problem I've had with Dreamworks compared with Pixar: faces. For one, every character's eyes seem to float on top of their face. And there's a problem with plasticity: not that they look plastic - they do, but that's a limitation of the medium - but that there's a rigidity to whatever features aren't moving. It looks like the characters are wearing masks with very detailed mouths. Given that it's raccoons and turtles and skunks, we're not in the Uncanny Valley here, but it still bothers me, and makes the characters much less sympathetic.

Of course, Pixar's latest involves anthropomorphic cars, so why should I talk?