A funny-animal movie not about zoo creatures going to Africa (cf. Madagascar and The Wild), DreamWorks' slapstick animated adaptation of the philosophically satiric comic strip Over the Hedge is a lot of laughs and boasts a much tighter story than most animated features.

After sneak-thief raccoon RJ (voice of Bruce Willis) accidentally destroys the food-and-toy hoard of Vincent (Nick Nolte), a homicidal hibernating bear, the unctuous ursine gives him one week to replace every item. It seems an impossible task, but when RJ stumbles upon the newly built El Rancho Camelot Estates, he quickly figures he can do the job with the unwitting help of an ad hoc family of foragers: turtle Verne (Garry Shandling), the highly responsible if stick-in-the-mud leader; screwy squirrel Hammy (Steve Carell, the standout in an outstanding voice cast); Penny and Lou (Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy), the porcupine parents of three kids; Stella, the attitudinal skunk (Wanda Sykes); and death-scene hambone Ozzie the opossum (a priceless William Shatner, giving his every line the extended pause of every William Shatner impersonator) and daughter Heather (Avril Lavigne).

RJ's in trouble that starts with T that rhymes with B that stands for barbecue-which the housefuls of suburban yuppies in SUVs throw with rampant regularity. The charismatic stranger convinces the innocent animals that with their food-supply forest reduced to a patch of green, they must adapt and scavenge. Here, try this nacho-cheese chip. The sugary-greasy allure of junk food quickly wins over the gang (except for the suspicious Verne), and RJ initiates a series of stealthy set-pieces equal parts Mission: Impossible and Ocean's Eleven, involving both Rube Goldberg gadgets and comedic cons. And while America's culture of waste gets the same drubbing as in the United Media strip by Michael Fry and the quirkily punctuated T Lewis ("How many humans fit in [that SUV]?" "Usually one."), there's room for a subtle homage to the great Warner Bros. cartoon classics: To make one crucial caper work, Stella the skunk must pass for a cat, clearly recalling the white-streaked cats mistaken for skunks in those Pepé Le Pew marvels.

While the animals risk the wrath of home-owner association despot Gladys Sharp (Allison Janney) and her hired gun, pest-control king The Verminator (Thomas Haden Church), RJ finds himself risking something less tangible but equally life-or-death-the cost of eventually betraying the surrogate family that has taken him in. That the film makes RJ's eventual redemption seem in doubt (not so much by the if but by the how-that is one bear of a bear) demonstrates the care and attention DreamWorks Animation habitually gives its scripts. Because whether it's a quick-hit daily comic strip or a full-length "origin-story" movie, it's all about the narrative. Even with talking animals. Hell, Aesop and the creators of fairy tales knew that.

-Frank Lovece