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"The animals got some food and I got to see a turtle's butt"

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"The animals got some food and I got to see a turtle's butt"

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There's this great little scene in Terry Gilliam's masterwork, "Brazil." Where this high powered bureacrat moves purposefully down a corridor with a veritable herd of assistants following close behind him. And each of these assistants need him to make a decision about an allegedly pressing problems.

Without even breaking stride, this executive fires off answers to all of their questions. As he continues down the corridor, the bureaucrat barks: "Yes. No. Send that back. Wrong department. Of course. Of course not. Yes. No. Maybe."

Well, to hear Tim Johnson (I.E. The co-director of Dreamworks Animation's latest release, "Over the Hedge") talk, that scene in "Brazil" pretty much sums up what it's actually like to be one of the guys riding herd on a computer animated feature these days.

"Of the 300 people that you're working with, typically 120 of them need your input on some sort of production-related matter each day," Johnson explained. "Which is why it's really important to have someone that you can split that workload with. Otherwise, you wind up becoming the human answering machine."

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Luckily on "Over the Hedge," Tim was paired with acclaimed screenwriter (and first-time director) Karey Kirkpatrick. And -- between the two of them -- they were finally able to find a way to successfully adapt Michael Fry & T. Lewis' popular comic strip to the big screen.

"It was Mike & T who actually came up with the concept of doing this film as a prequel to the comic strip, laying out the story of how R.J. & Verne first met," Johnson said."What Karey & I did then was to take their concept and then translate it into something that would play as a full-length animated feature."

Mind you, some of the production-related decisions that Johnson & Kirkpatrick made over the past 4 1/2 years are fairly subtle. You probably wouldn't even notice them unless they were pointed out to you. Take -- for example -- the scale of the picture.

"In this film, all of the animals are supposed to be six feet tall. Human-sized," Tim continued. "Whereas the humans ... They're gigantic. They deliberately tower over R.J., Verne and the rest. We did that deliberately with the hope that -- because of the size difference -- the audience's sympathies would always lie with the animals."

But Johnson & Kirkpatrick didn't just carefully consider "Over the Hedge" 's scale. They also put an awful lot of thought into establishing the proper tone for the picture. Which meant spending many hours watching classic sympathetic-con-man pictures like "The Music Man" and "Elmer Gantry."

Copyright Dreamworks Animation

"We knew that we had to strike just the right balance with R.J., " Tim explained. "We really wanted the audience to be amused with how this conniving raccoon used his slick patter to gradually win over & then corrupt this group of innocents. But -- at the same time -- we still wanted R.J. to be redeemable in the end. Which is why we watched an awful lot of Robert Preston, an awful lot of Burt Lancaster as we tried to find a way to make our raccoon star a lovable rogue."

Of course, what really helped Johnson & Kirkpatrick in this particular situation was that they had veteran animation producer Bonnie Arnold always backing them. Tim jokingly referred to Bonnie as "the tempo police."

"She was the one who always kept us focused," he explained."The three of us would be sitting together in editing, watching a work-in-progress version of the picture. And while Karey & I would be cackling over a particular piece of dialogue that we liked, Bonnie would say things like 'That's a great joke. But I'm getting antsy about the storytelling here.' 'Over the Hedge' is a much stronger picture because of her input."

Copyright Dreamworks Animation

Johnson seems justly proud of Dreamworks Animation's latest release. That audiences really seemed to have enjoyed "Over the Hedge" during this film's test screenings. Which is why Tim hopes that families will actually embrace this new computer animated feature when it finally rolls into theaters tomorrow.

"I genuinely think it's important to make motion pictures that the whole family can enjoy together, that also have a little message or moral that goes along with the fun," Johnson continued. "After all, kids look to movies like this for life lessons. Examples of how they should behave, how they should react in tough situations."

Of course, when Tim's sons finally got to see "Over the Hedge," they didn't quite come away with the message that their director daddy had been hoping that they would.

"After the screening, I asked my son, Gage, what he remembered most about the movie," Johnson laughed. "And what he said was 'That the animals got some food and that I got to see a turtle's butt."

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  • The marketing on this movie is really making it look like another "computer animated animal" movie. Where the reviews have been positive, they seem to fall more in line with Chicken Little, than Nemo or the Incredibles, or Shrek. Eve projections for this movie are falling in to $170 million range, which would be more like Ice Age than Madagascar.

    They seem to be missing the mark with the marketing, though. Even on Letterman last night, Bruce Willis was more concerned about doing his David Blaine impersonation than he was promoting the movie.

    Maybe we've just become saturated with cute animal CG features.
  • The marketing on this movie is really making it look like another "computer animated animal" movie. Where the reviews have been positive, they seem to fall more in line with Chicken Little
    Uh, lemme guess - "Hip, up-to-date jokes that parents can enjoy along with their kids"?  9_9
    (We're getting to the point now where you can tell it's really, really OLD critics who are excited that A Family Film's in CGI...We're coming up on a generation that doesn't remember any other kind, and doesn't have to care.)

    And yeah, Jim, I'm gonna concur with that poster from the earlier thread--One DW/Hedge article is normal soulless hype, three articles is needing help, big time.  Lots.  Of help.
    We graciously remind you that a primarily Disney board is *not* where one should optimistically expect the most warm, loving welcome for overtly promotional opinions about "innovative, hilarious" Dreamworks movies, and "whether this will be their newest smash hit since Shrek"...
    Actually, come to think of it, there aren't too many places in the world where you could say that with a straight face, but here, less of all.
  • These articles sound less like Jim Hill and more a studio-sanctioned puff-piece, especially the insider interviews with producer, director, and a star. Coupled with the fact that Jim actually completed a three-part series, something smells very fishy here. Was there money exchanged?
  • I have to agree with Instidude.  When I see previews for this movie, I don't think "Oh, that might be interesting/worth watching."  I think "What the hell is this movie supposed to be about?"  Most people don't know about the comic strip that it's based on (it's been years since I last saw it in my paper) and I haven't seen a single preview that gives the audience any idea what they're paying $7+ to see.  Seeing that there's gags involved, or that the characters are hawking HP, without establishing the why (what are the characters doing? what's the purpose? why should I care about them?) doesn't give me a reason to see the movie.  I've learned everything that I know about this movie from these three articles, which let's face it, are not going to convince many of the Disneyfiles that peruse the site.  How can these ads be considered marketing then?  Does anyone want to see the picture based soley on the TV spots?  I wonder how well it will do.
  • No thank you.
  • You're all such Disney/Pixar fanboys its silly.
  • Well at least it's in the proven Dreamworks style - let's just copy other pictures.  Which is confusing, since from what I've read, everyone involved with this picture is a genius.
  • DJohnson06 said:
    You're all such Disney/Pixar fanboys its silly.

    No, just want to see something new and innovative in the realm of animation, and I'm seeing nothing that makes this stand out from the crowd.
  • Well, they lost me with the "Humans worship food" joke from the trailer. I found that "tasteless". :))

    Judging from the comic strip and what I've seen in the trailers, I'd say this looks like another story themed around human greed and overconsumpion -  green lighted by folks who fly their lear jets to their $5mill vacation home in the wilderness.
  • I have to say the movie looks funny to me.  The reviews have been very favorable and they have said that the film does not resort to the lame pop culture references.  It's opening up against Da Vinci Code this weekend so I think that will be my second choice after this one as "Code" will likely be sold out anyway...
  • I saw one of the advance screenings, and was not paid by anybody.  This is, hands down, no contest, no question, the best animated feature so far this year, and I don't recall seeing too many reviewers that disagree.  Stand out from the crowd?  You betcha!  I've never had this much fun at a Dreamworks picture.  Or, in the last several years, a Disney one.

    It's not a very deep, meaningful picture, it's just 80 minutes of very clever, well-executed fun -- sort of like what the Ice Age flicks would have been if they'd been able to sustain the quality of the Scrat parts through the rest of the movie.  Nothing stale about it, other than the unfortunate coincidence of having the third hyperactive squirrel this year (and as usual, he gets the funniest scene in the movie).  

    This weekend while you're snoozing through 2 1/2 hours of  "DaVinci Code" even though all the critics warned you to stay away, those howls of laughter you hear from the next theater are coming from "Over the Hedge".

    I second what DJohnson06 said.  Y'all are a buncha fanboy fools.
  • Interesting I can't remember the last time I read a "hedge" comic strip. it was in the papers when I was a child but ANY WAY

    I think this is what it is A CG Animated cartoon with animals (funny don't most of the ""clasic"" disney animated films have animals as the stars N/M)   I will see it because I like the style of Animation they used and Steve Carell is a squirell....... I mean if thats not funny what is.
    ANy way to all of you who are calling Jim out here for showing  support for something other than Disney's Media machine (of Dull animated film recently anyway)

    Gimme a break this guy reports on Disney stories every week so what if he likes other films.... it is possible for people to enjoy films from more than 1 studio.  ok  thats all.
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