The Guardians of the Galaxy, who made their first appearance in print in 1969, bear very little resemblance to the team of superheroes who will grace the big screen this weekend.
Conspiculous by his absence in the original book is Rocket Raccoon, the heroic character voiced by Bradley Cooper in the film. The feisty raccoon appeared years later, created by writer Bill Mantlo and illustrator Keith Giffen, who named the masked creature in tribute to the Beatles’ tune Rocky Raccoon.
They confirmed the Beatle’s influence in 1982 with a story that paraphrased John and Paul’s lyrics for the title. Called Now Somewhere In the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Named Rocket Raccoon, the book saw the Hulk and Rocket Raccoon stop a villain from stealing Gideon’s Bible.
Rocket is latest raccoon, but not the only, to become a mammalian movie star.
Recently Liam Neeson starred in the animated movie The Nut Job, playing the imaginatively named Raccoon, the patriarch of a park, who might not have the best interests of the other animals top of mind.
The sixty-two year old Irish actor says he had never seen a raccoon until he was in his thirties, shooting an episode of Miami Vice in Florida. “Seeing this thing use his little paws and actually lifting a lid of a garbage can, peering in,” he says, “was quite sinister because it almost had a human quality to it, quite sneaky. I just had never seen a raccoon in my life before and the impression stayed with me.”
Other animated raccoons have worked steadily. Meeko, the raccoon from Disney’s Pocahontas and Pocahontas ll: Journey to a New World cartoon also makes appearances in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse and in the Pocahontas video game. Then there’s RJ from Over the Hedge, a lovable raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis. “The rascally charm Bruce Willis brought to Moonlighting makes RJ a lovable rogue, or at least a likable one,” said director Karey Kirkpatrick.
Real-life raccoons are also getting work—in films like Rascal and The Details—but according to director Steve Carr they can present some problems. Tough guy actor Michael Rappaport voiced Joey, the consigliere raccoon, in Dr. Dolittle 2. The film featured over-250 four-legged cast members—including wolves, giraffes, bears, possums, raccoons, dogs, and owls—so Carr says, “A huge percentage of our work was waiting for the animals to do what they’re trained to do. And the patience that was needed well, it felt at times as if it were Herculean.”
There has been no shortage of animated talking animals at the theatres in recent years but the mobbed-up penguins of Madagascar, Chicken Little’s paranoia and The Wild’s sarcastic koala mostly make me long for the days of Dr. Dolittle, where our four legged friends didn’t burst into song and the humans got all the funny lines. With the release of Over the Hedge there is, finally, a talking animal movie that didn’t make me long for Penguin Pie, Lion Fricassee or any other carnivorous delight.
The film, based on a long-running comic strip of the same name, gently pokes fun at modern life, satirizing North America’s love affair with conspicuous consumption. The story revolves around a loosely knit family of cute woodland animals—who look like they wandered into frame from a 1940s Disney cartoon—who awaken from their winter hibernation only to find that half their forest has been leveled to make way for a pristine housing development.
Instead of foraging for food in the forest they fall under the spell of a devious raccoon named RJ who convinces them to raid the suburban mansions, bulging with junk food, that lie just over the hedge from their woodland home. The humans don’t react kindly to this merry band of thieves and hire an exterminator to eliminate them.
The satire here isn’t particularly stinging—if you want a real comment on suburbia’s effect on the ecology ask David Suzuki—but it does make the point that North America’s green spaces are quickly being eaten up by suburbs. More to the point the movie stresses the importance of togetherness and family values.
Over the Hedge isn’t a classic like Finding Nemo—which remains the Citizen Kane of computer animated kid’s movies—but it is solid family entertainment. It contains enough amusing action sequences and good voice work from Bruce Willis as the conniving raccoon, Wanda Sykes as a seductive skunk and Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as a pair of hilariously Canadian-accented porcupines to put it a tier above recent lackadaisical animated releases.