News Article

Just Desserts

Has American excess driven the animal world ''Over the Hedge''? A deliciously devilish little DVD reminds us we should eat to live, not live to eat. Plus: music and books to nosh on

Over the Hedge | OVER THE HEDGE
OVER THE HEDGE

Have we driven the animal world ''Over the Hedge''?

DVD

Over the Hedge
PG, 83 mins., 2006
It sometimes takes another whole species to make us humans stop and think what we're doing. In this case, it all starts with RJ, a greedy raccoon who is stealing a hibernating grizzly bear's haul. He nearly makes it out of the cave but he can't resist popping open a can of Spuddies, waking the bear, who watches as his food cascades down a hill and gets smashed by a truck. RJ has one week to gather all the same ''goodies'' — none of them naturally occurring in nature — or he's as good as roadkill.

In a woodsy patch not too far away, another group of animals is waking from hibernation too, only to find a huge, sprawling bush in front of them. Smooth-talking RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis) sees his chance to recruit the naïve bunch (which includes Garry Shandling's level-headed Verne the turtle, Steve Carell's hyperactive Hammy the squirrel, and Wanda Sykes' odiferous Stella the skunk), explaining the new hedge, suburbia, and the feeding habits of humans: ''We eat to live; these guys live to eat.'' And pointing to one biped sweating it out on an elliptical machine: ''That gets rid of the guilt so they can eat more food.''

From the animal pack's first glorious whiff of unadulterated junk food — a single nacho-cheese-flavored tortilla chip — we witness a eureka moment, similar to the one a child raised on rice crackers and organic yogurt has when she discovers... a Dipsy Doodle: Where have these been all my life? To heck with the twigs and berries! It's all Ding Dongs and hot dogs from there on out for the animals, who frighten the life out of cookie-toting Girl Scouts (peddling Love Handles, Skinny Mints, and Smackeroons) and a pesky home owners' association busybody (deliciously voiced by Allison Janney).

So Over the Hedge is more than just a giggle fest for kids. It's a cautionary tale of suburban sprawl, of American life, and Americans' terrible eating habits that might make you go for the grapes instead of the gummy bears. A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3 and up

CD

Animal Crackers
Wee Hairy Beasties (Bloodshot)
Kids' hootenannies don't get any more fun, or parent-friendly, than this rootsy collection. And by ''rootsy,'' we mean it both in the musical sense and the literal one: the new folk-rock collective that calls itself the Wee Hairy Beasties tends to favor sweet songs about insects and other crawly critters over the more photogenic animals.

But then, the group's ''up from the underground'' credentials are redoubtable. Jon Langford and Sally Timms are members of the Mekons, one of the best, most critically acclaimed, intellectually inclined British punk bands, dating all the way to the '70s. As American émigrés, they're no longer really British, and they're no longer very punk, either, since they've mostly concentrated in recent years on folk and country side projects, like this one. They're joined in this project by fellow alt-country luminary Kelly Hogan and a washboard/clarinet/kazoo-favoring trio called Devil in a Woodpile, and all of 'em sound like they were born to slum in kidville. Though you can also bet there'll be a lot of childless alt-country fans responding to this crawl of the wild.

Among the tunes adults will get the biggest kicks out of are ''I'm an A.N.T.,'' a takeoff on the age-old blues perennial ''I'm a Man,'' and the punny ''A Newt Called Tiny'' (''because he's my newt'' — as in minute — get it?). Meanwhile, the opening number, ''Wee Hairy Beasties,'' belongs on any campfire mix CD, where it'll sit well alongside other buggy classics like Jonathan Richman's ''Hey There, Little Insect'' and Gwendolyn & the Good Time Gang's ''Wee, Wee Beastie.'' A-Chris Willman
Recommended ages: 2 and up

Books

Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Dr. Seuss
Concocted by Georgeann Brennan
Would I like it or would I hate it? At first I thought, This is just a book trading on Dr. Seuss' fame, and I'm going to hate it. But then it arrived and, I have to admit, completely disarmed me. Yes, it's peppered with Seuss art and excerpts, but that's not a bad thing. Young finicky eaters might actually like some of these dishes. (Though it's not a book for young cooks: This is mostly complicated cooking, adult territory.) Its appeal, of course, lies in the names: Green eggs and ham! Circus McGurkus pink lemonade! Schlottz's Knots! Now kids can eat them — if their parents will make them. BTina Jordan

For Your Collection
D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls
The Christmas I was in second grade, my parents gave me D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. At first I wasn't too sure about it, but I grew to love its beautiful drawings, and soon became completely entranced by the stories of the gods and goddesses. Trolls — originally published in 1972, and just released in a beautiful facsimile edition by the New York Review of Books — is one of the D'Aulaires' books exploring Norse mythology: specifically, the gnomes and other small, magical creatures, many of them hideously ugly, who live in the nooks and crannies of the earth, beneath bridges and inside enchanted mountains. The tales of the trolls are engrossing, and the illustrations just as I remembered them from the Greek Myths: wild and intensely colorful. A child with love for the magical and unusual will spend many hours with this book. —TJ
Recommended ages: 8 and up

Originally posted Oct 25, 2006