The Back of Beyond

My girl­friend and I went to see the American anim­ated com­edy Over The Hedge last night. The ver­dict: Generally good, with some great act­ing tal­ent, well-con­struc­ted set pieces, and the visu­als were con­sist­ently gor­geous. Kids will love it. On last night’s evid­ence, some will actu­ally wet them­selves with pleas­ure. I can’t remem­ber the last time I wet myself with pleas­ure, but I’m almost cer­tain it wasn’t at the cinema.

Listeners to The Good Doctor on BBC Five Live might be famil­i­ar with the phrase ‘This film rep­res­ents the death of nar­rat­ive cinema’, which Dr Kermode extorts his listen­ers to shout after films like Ice Age II — which, though pass­able, suf­fers from a lack of nar­rat­ive back­bone. I must tell you, gentle read­er, that I was power­ful temp­ted (as they used to say in Rawhide) to make this announce­ment over the cred­its of Over The Hedge. Why? Because, as we see so often, the film fires on all cyl­in­ders but one: script.

Script writ­ing is, of course, a col­lab­or­at­ive effort. And where McDuck-sized swim­ming pools of ingots are con­cerned, the col­lab­or­a­tion goes up a gear. This seems to push the story struc­ture towards archetyp­ic­al ele­ments that, it is pre­sumed, speak to the hearts o’everyone. I’m not so sure. When aggress­ively applied, these rules suck the life out of a story. It isn’t enough to have your embattled prot­ag­on­ist get his call to adven­ture on script page 5, end Act 1 with a set-piece that sees him almost achieve his goals, start Act 3 with a last, des­per­ate attempt to achieve them, yada yada yada. The nar­rat­ive struc­ture of Over The Hedge is vir­tu­ally identic­al to Chicken Run. Why? Because Chicken Run made money?

Over The Hedge isn’t the death of nar­rat­ive cinema, but I can hear John Lassiter shout­ing “Code blue!” Let’s hope his defib pan­els have some oomph.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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