Sometimes a film can remind you of the strangest things.
Wanda Sykes, the standup comedian behind the sassy voice of Stella the skunk in “Over the Hedge,” readily recalled why the blustery and pot-bellied exterminator antagonist in the animated film reminded her of her father.
“We grew up in this really rural area in Virginia. One time I saw he shot a snake. We were all in the living room watching television, (and) he just walked in and ‘pow pow!’ We were all just like ‘What are you doing?’ ” Sykes said. “And he was so proud (I just thought), you almost took my brother out, man!'”
Clearly, then, there’s an element of universal accessibility to the film, which details the adventures of a gang of backyard critters as they discover the temptation-laden suburbs. Led by a hip raccoon named RJ (Bruce Willis, “Die Hard”), the animals soon find that those strange, food-worshipping creatures (otherwise known as humans) are a completely different breed of animal.
Characterizing humans by their lust for food warranted the film plenty of comedic opportunities, including a series of scenes in which RJ defines having jobs as a way for humans to buy food before showing his friends a treadmill where humans exercise “to eat more food.”
These actions comprise the film’s sharp sense of socially aware humor, but director Tim Johnson (“Antz”) explained how the comedy won’t be lost on the film’s young audience.
“I think kids, especially kids that are eight or nine years old, they’ll understand when we make fun of SUVs. Say, an animal says ‘how many humans does that SUV hold?’ and RJ goes ‘Eh, one,’ ” Johnson said. “They know what that’s about.”
Kids will also relate to the intoxicating draw of nacho chips and caffeinated beverages, two edibles that are nearly toxic for Hammy (Steve Carell, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), a phenomenally effervescent squirrel. Though Sykes played a more demure character, she identified with the comedy of the film and explained how hard she worked to do the part of Stella justice.
“I went off and I lived with a family of skunks,” she joked. “No, it was easy to identify with Stella … something stinks and they’ll blame her, she gets profiled, and also … females get judged by their parents. There’s self-esteem issues going on and really a vulnerability in there.”
Compared to Sykes’s usual line of work, the movie was a refreshing change.
“It was nice to be a part of something for the whole family, you know? I work nightclubs and people don’t bring their kids. I don’t know why,” Sykes said. “It was nice to be a part of something (everyone) will enjoy.”