Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 21, 2006
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Over the Hedge, Gender, Spritzers, and Right-of-Way
Over the Hedge looked like it was going to be charming and funny -- and it
The odd thing is that I don't really enjoy the comic strip it was based on. I
rarely find it amusing. But for an animated feature, the idea of animals forced
to deal with suburbia in order to find food is a good one.
Having had raccoons get into my garbage cans, I understand the frustration of
getting to pick up your trash because some wild animals were hungry and way
too clever with their hands.
And the number of squirrel corpses on the streets of our neighborhood,
especially in spring and fall, attest to the not-quite-brightness of the squirrel
The film handled the satire of human impact on nature rather well. Yes, our
eating habits are funny compared to the habits of animals (though also
remarkably similar, as our bodies, like theirs, work to build up fat during our
perpetual "summer" of bounteous harvests) -- but the biggest danger to the
raccoon hero is another animal.
And the woman who is the primary human foe of the animals is so
exaggeratedly fanatical in her hatred of anything messy and natural that few in
the audience will take it personally when she gets her comeuppance. Since the
film shows "normal" people rejecting her fanaticism, and we watch her
persecuting others for such crimes as letting their lawn grow a half inch too
long, she is definitely not one of us.
And I was relieved that for once the ridiculous pantaloon in a suburban satire
was not the man of the house. The woman hired an exterminator to come and
deal with the "pests."
Funny, though -- you could take the sex-stereotyping two ways. If you want to
see the film as anti-male, it would be easy: The only male character is the
buffoon, the Verminator -- but he's an outsider, a hired gun, not part of the
social system. The suburban neighborhood is weirdly without adult males. We
get glimpses, but the people who talk are all women and girls. The main female
character is not married and shows no interest in marriage.
On the other hand, the control-freak nightmare character is a woman with
neither husband nor children -- so this could be viewed as an anti-feminist
tract, despising the powerful woman figure.
In other words, prickly people determined to be offended will find ample
grounds for it.
To which the answer is: Come on, we made the main human character a
woman because why not? Flip a coin. And we made her an obsessive control
freak because there really are people like that and they're funny in a horrible
kind of way. And we had her live alone because could you imagine anybody
being married to somebody like that? Didn't you see Spanglish?
So forget all that silliness. This is a film about the talking animals -- and
about the social dynamics represented by those animals. We have a group
headed by a prudent, careful leader who really has the best interests of all his
"family" in mind, and a newcomer offering all kinds of cool stuff that seduces
the group into great danger. Everybody makes mistakes.
The only thing I actually object to is the downward redefining of the word
"family." We saw it in Lilo & Stitch, and we've got it here, too. In a world like
ours, where a vast number of kids grow up outside the normal dad-mom-and-kids family, there's a lot of pressure to make them feel better by redefining
family to include "everybody you like that you can count on."
But we already had words for that: We call them "friends" and "communities."
The word "family" has a very different meaning, with the implication of blood
relationship and permanency.
Wouldn't we be better off to keep "family" as a goal to be aspired to, so that (for
instance) a teenage girl might aspire to find a man who would help her create a
permanent family for her children rather than one that will mate with her and
go away? And how many divorced kids really think it's cool to have two
"families"? For most of them (and we have the data on this) what they actually
experience is one family, and it's broken.
So when a movie like this uses the word "family" to refer to possums,
porcupines, a squirrel, a turtle, and a raccoon, when they actually function as
a community of friends, I think we're doing ourselves a disservice. Fuzzing the
meaning of a word doesn't change the real world, or the genuine hunger people
feel to have a real family. It just means we'll need a new word to cover the
meaning that "family" used to have.
But let's set that little social trend aside, too -- because, like gender
stereotypes, it has almost nothing to do with our experience of the actual movie
Over the Hedge. For adults, it's a delightful satire on humans from an animal-like perspective; for kids, it's a cool story about an outsider who joins a group
of friends in order to exploit them, but ends up caring about them and being
loyal to them. Lots of adventure, lots of funny stuff, with great animation and
The voice work is terrific. Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, and Wanda Sykes
create wonderful characters -- though they remain recognizable as themselves.
Even more impressive are Steve Carell (as the manic squirrel) and William
Shatner (as the father possum) -- because we don't recognize them at all. In
fact, the voice casting was perfect, right down to Omid Djalili as the hilariously
vain Persian cat.
We watched this movie with a group that included stodgy adults (moi),
teenagers, preteens, and rugrats, and all of them enjoyed it. You don't have to
have children with you to have a great time.
This is easily Dreamworks's best animated film to date. And it's worth staying
through the credits -- if you don't have kids who need to get to a bathroom to
throw up their popcorn. There are funny bits scattered here and there through
the credits. And it's also amusing to see that apparently every single person
who worked at Dreamworks during the making of this film, including several
Fedex and UPS delivery guys, have their names listed.
The only thing left is to start listing the names of audience members on the
opening weekend. And maybe the neighbors of the people who made the
Speaking of gender stereotypes, isn't it amusing that before Mother's Day, our
local no-gender-stereotype daily newspaper, the Greensboro News & Record,
asked people to write in or call with sweet sentimental stories about their
beloved mothers; but now, before Father's Day, what they ask people to give
them are stories about how their fathers embarrassed them.
Right. Like mothers never embarrass their kids. Like fathers are not worthy of
being remembered with love and respect.
It's as if it's now required that we all agree that fatherhood is just a funny, silly
thing, and fathers are completely needless and ineffectual.
It reminds me of a few months ago in a Sunday school class, where some
people were wrestling with the moral implications of a particular point of
doctrine, and one woman raised her hand and said, "We've heard a lot of the
male point of view. Isn't it about time we heard from women?"
Now, leaving aside the fact that several women had already spoken in the
discussion, I immediately imagined what outrage would have ensued if I, as a
male, had raised my hand in the midst of a discussion in which women had
been quite vocal (and there's no shortage of those) and said, "We've heard a lot
of the female point of view. Isn't it about time we heard from men?"
I would have been met with stony silence or worse, and people would have
shunned me for weeks, if not forever. Yet when a woman said exactly the same
thing, but disdaining men instead of women, not only did nobody bat an eye
(except me), they acted as if the men had done something wrong by speaking
up on an issue they cared about; as if we men all agreed we should have been
more sensitive and not spoken until women had their say.
And yet the woman who said this is a dear friend who is not hostile to men and
who has a good marriage in which they both speak their mind freely. In other
words, she was not a male-hating feminist. Yet it seemed to her and almost
everyone else in that group -- a quite conservative group! -- perfectly
acceptable to speak disdainfully of men and to elevate women above them.
It's the victory of Oprah-speak in our culture.
Well I remember as I was growing up all the stupid jokes about women --
mothers-in-law, women drivers, dumb blondes -- and all the casual
condescension and contempt men openly expressed toward women. I
remember resenting such things because I knew they were false and unfair to
my mother, grandmothers, and sisters.
Now such talk has been mostly extinguished -- completely so in the circles I
move in. I never hear males say disparaging words about women or complain
about their wives, even when we are in all-male groups. (I realize such things
still probably get said -- but not by men I actually know and like, and never in
front of me.)
Yet I am assured by many women of my acquaintance that husband-bashing
and male-bashing are common sports in all-female gatherings.
Here's the thing: We men extinguished the anti-female stuff using normal
social pressures -- when someone said something out of line, somebody
answered, either sternly or with a mild reminder, and the group made it clear
such disparagement was not appreciated.
Women could extinguish male-bashing, too, if they wanted to. They could even
stop and think, before saying something disparaging about men, "Would I
admire someone for saying the thing I'm about to say, if they said it about
women instead of men?" If the answer is no, then don't say it.
To women who constantly snipe at their husbands behind their backs and
make snide comments about men: Your daughters hear you. They bring those
attitudes into their own marriages. Worse, they bring that attitude to their
search for a husband. Your sons hear you, too; don't be surprised if they live
down to your contemptuous expectations.
Isn't it time we recognize and celebrate the differences between the sexes? Isn't
it time we respect a man for being a good man, instead of despising him for
being an inadequate woman?
And wouldn't it be nice of the instruments of popular culture -- like the local
paper -- didn't build in a male-despising bias in their treatment of Mother's
Day and Father's Day?
I have long enjoyed juices made by the R.W. Knudsen Family brand. Their
pineapple-coconut juice is, to my view, the nectar of the gods -- besides being
the only way I know of to get delicious coconut flavor without the nasty mouth-feel of shredded coconut (a good way to ruin a donut or a cake, in my opinion).
Well, the Kundsens have a new product that I absolutely love: Spritzers!
Essentially, these are carbonated juice drinks that actually have flavor. Plus,
the carbonation is fairly light.
I don't know about you, but I can't drink carbonated drinks like Coke or Pepsi
straight out of the can. The carbonation is too strong -- the proportion of gas
to liquid is so high that it's actually uncomfortable to swallow. But the
Knudsen spritzers are lightly carbonated and easily drinkable.
They come in a great variety of flavors, all delicious -- though the local Earth
Fare carries only a few of them. I love the Mango Fandango, Tangerine, and
Mandarin Lime. I haven't had a chance to sample the diet versions -- "spritzer
light," to use the company's term for them -- but since these drinks pack a
nice dose of calories, a lite version is a good idea.
The Knudsen website shows several local stores that carry their juices. I'm
going to prowl a few of them and report back if one of them carries a really
I'm about to arm myself with a good pair of pruning shears and head out to
assert the common-law right-of-way.
I'm tired of having tree branches that overhang sidewalks so that a 6'-2" guy
like me has to bend almost double or step out into the street. People who own
property that fronts on a public thoroughfare -- which includes sidewalks --
have a legal obligation to keep those thoroughfares free of obstructions.
And if they don't, passersby have a right to unblock the sidewalk.
Of course, my pruning shears won't help me with such anti-pedestrian
practices as building traffic islands that actually block pedestrian traffic.
For instance, Koury Corporation has installed just such a road block at the
entrance to their new town-center development on Pisgah Church Rd. You're
pushing a stroller or wheelchair along the sidewalk, easily going up and down
the corner ramps that the law requires them to install -- but when you cross
their driveway, you find your way blocked by their steep traffic island. You are
forced to turn out and go through the gutter or out into traffic.
Same thing at the intersection of North Elm and Corporate Center -- the
sidewalks are just fine for wheelchairs and strollers, but then there's a median
that blocks the crosswalk.
Since I don't own the tools to knock these illegal obstructions out of the way, I
can only ask, Where is our government? They're right there to tell you what
you can and can't do on your own property -- but don't they have anybody
whose job it is to make sure big corporations don't build structures that block
the public right of way?
I guess it's just part of the local government's insistence that if you aren't in a
car, they don't have to care about your comfort or safety.