When discussion of Over the Hedge occurs, it is usually categorized as mediocre. To even suggest that there is an “Over the Hedge discussion” sounds a bit absurd; after all, if it is truly mediocre, what is there to unpack? Most of the time, it’s brought up under nostalgia-fueled reflective analyses that end in it being deemed “fine”—and I’m one to agree. I think it’s a perfectly fine, cute, silly film that I look back on fondly and like to sit down with every now and again. That being said, what exactly am I doing here?
Two things tend to happen when I remember this movie: one, I realize that my six-year-old self absolutely had a massive crush on RJ the raccoon. And two, I remember the music. The songs from this movie are things I have kept revisiting over and over for more than half my life. Ben Folds’ lyrics are masterful, and, honestly, incredibly sobering to listen to. “Still” hits me like a ton of bricks every time. It conveys incredibly complex feelings, and because of that, feels almost out of place in its film of origin. So, I was interested in analyzing that place it holds to see if it really was out of place, or if there’s more to this movie. And as much as I was interested in that, I was also looking to examine myself in relation to this film and this song, since it has resonated with me so deeply for so long. I thought it might bring me healing as I navigate this difficult time we’re living in.
While “Still” is my main inspiration, I’ll start with “Family of Me” because I think it’ll provide some helpful context. It plays just after the title scene and essentially explains where RJ is in his life (“How great I am; gotta tell myself, ‘yeah, I’m the man.’ Looks grim right now, but pretty soon we’ll be laughing about it”). When he meets the other animals behind the hedge, he’s confident, witty, and displays a “yes man” attitude, but as we saw in the beginning, is also completely alone and struggling to survive. “Family of Me” is a pretty sad song that betrays its somber lyrics with an up-beat tune, mirroring the way RJ feels versus how he presents himself; “It’s alright, yeah, it is, I swear you’ll see (it’s not really).”
The point at which “Still” plays contrasts RJ’s current state with Vern’s, the turtle who was the leader of the forest critters before RJ came along. The scene sees RJ at a crossroads where he has grown attached to the mismatched family of forest critters he’s trying to con and must choose between them and paying back a grizzly bear he pissed off at the beginning of the movie. Worse still, his encouragement of their expanding into human territory to search for food has garnered the attention of the town’s homeowners’ association president who has hired an exterminator intent on killing them all. He is terrified, reckoning with what exactly he’s done, and perhaps even who he really is. on the other end, Vern is faced with his entire way of life suddenly being challenged, and his family actively rejecting that way in favor of the one RJ is teaching them.
“I must give the impression that I have the answers for everything.” This is reminiscent of the way RJ has presented himself to the other characters: as someone clever and experienced. This is not dissimilar to Vern, who was originally the one at the helm of the forest gang and is used to being the voice of reason. They’re both struggling to uphold their personas of collectedness.
“You were so disappointed to see me unravel so easily.” This scene is after Vern proclaimed that he returned all the food they had taken from the nearby humans, slipping up and insulting his family in the process. This results in them resenting him, surprised that their long-time leader would throw away all of their hard work because he wasn’t ready to embrace their new situation and surroundings. As for RJ, these lyrics work more in favor of where his arc is headed. Later in the film, the other characters, who had come to see him as family, discover that he was manipulating them, and reject him.
“It’s only change, it’s only everything I know. It’s only change; I’m only changing”. I believe this is expressing RJ’s reckoning with the unexpected feelings he has, and the way they’re influencing his decision-making process. He’d never considered getting comfortable with the forest gang, and now that he has, it’s making him reconsider his entire plan, and reexamine who he is as an individual. Is he really the type to take advantage of others without a second look, or did he want something more all along? He’s used to being a sly, smooth-talking conman who doesn’t deal with feelings like this—but now he is. Everything he thought he was is shifting; he’s changing, and that’s frightening. While RJ fears this inner change, Vern is frightened by the outward change. He awoke from hibernation to discover the majority of his forest home was destroyed and replaced by a human suburb, and then cast aside as leader by a random raccoon intent on using his family to steal food from much bigger, dangerous creatures (humans). He wasn’t prepared for his entire lifestyle to come undone, and is surrounded by others who are accepting the change with open arms. It leaves him blindsided and frustrated.
“But watch, even the stars above, things that seem still are still changing.” This is by far my favorite set of lyrics in the song. It might be a bit layered, but I think the part about the stars provides a great starting point. We all know stars are unimaginably large, unimaginably far away, eternally burning balls of plasma. The little lights we see in the night sky, though they seem fixed in their spots, took lightyears to reach our eyes. They are in a constant state of movement and change, even though the constellations we have traced between them remain ever discernible. I think perhaps we are like stars. In five years, I won’t look much different than I do now, but all of my skin cells will have replaced themselves multiple times over. But our brains are changing even faster, adding to, and altering who we are, sometimes quietly so that we don’t realize something is different until we are explicitly faced with it. And just as we are like stars, so are RJ and Vern. RJ thought his reality, his self, was fixed, and Vern fought to “return things to the way they were”, but these things betray the very essence of what reality is: change.
Something happened the night I began writing this. In doing some light research, I discovered there was a reprise of “Still” in the official soundtrack that I had somehow missed even after all this time. A longer version of one of my favorite songs—I was ecstatic. As I began listening to it, to the additional lyrics, I broke down. “I stay focused on details; it keeps me from feeling the big things” shattered me. To quote a famous Vine, “hahaha, I do that”. When things happen around me, I tend to deal with them in short intervals over time, whether it be my grandma dying and me not getting to go to her funeral or losing a job I loved due to COVID. This tends to result in me not really processing what’s happened. My brain is always operating at a million miles per hour, and yet these elements of time seem faster than me. My dog died in September, now it’s May, and I’m still confused when she isn’t there to greet me when I come home. I’m like Vern, frustrated at the futility of wishing things around me were different, and I’m like RJ, oblivious to what’s going on inside me.
One of those “outside things” that I’m sluggishly wrapping my head around is the fact that I’m currently looking back at the movies I grew up with. I’m old enough to realize how old something is and go, “woah, hold on”. That used to be such an “old person” thing, something I didn’t really identify with because I was still a kid, experiencing my life and media immediately and constantly and not processing that those things, and myself, were in the process of aging. I’m 22 years old now, and Over the Hedge, a movie I vividly remember dragging my poor parents to see multiple times, is almost 16. I remember being 16, when this movie was just touching 10 years. I guess a good way of simplifying it is thinking back on all this content I’ve consumed of older people reflecting on movies older than me because they were nostalgic to that generation, and I wasn’t ready for the content I had at a young age being ripe for that same kind of reflection. I have to adapt to this new state of being, where my childhood is something I am suddenly looking behind me at, where the things I loved at the age of six are suddenly those exact old things I listened to older generations speak on, but they’re mine now. I’m an age I daydreamed about as a child, as a teenager, wondering what I might be, where I might be. And I think maybe what I’ve realized after this project is, no matter what’s happened around me, inside me, or beyond me, I’m still here.
To do one more round of lyric analysis, “But watch the microscope long enough, things that seem still are still changing.” A bit different from its shorter version, but still conveying the same idea. Just as stars are always moving, we are always changing; our molecules and germs and bacteria are shifting and evolving and developing all the time. And even as I fail to process my trauma all at once, my brain, thoughts, and feelings are moving. I’ll look the same in the mirror every day; I’ll get stuck in my loops and cycles; I will feel locked. And I will feel I have no key until change finds me again, and the lock shatters. I somehow manage to keep forgetting change is constant, so when I suddenly break down screaming out of stress and anguish after weeks of what I thought was nothing, it feels like it comes out of nowhere. “How did this happen?” I ask. “How did I miss this?
How could I not have known?” Because what appear to be obvious signs looking back felt in that moment like a molecule moving, a single skin cell drifting off, a star being the smallest micro-movement closer to the left than it was the previous night; that is to say, it felt like nothing at all.
And like the color of my eyes one week before a breakdown, Over the Hedge is still there exactly as it was 16 years ago. It does not change physically, a piece of animation forever encapsulated in digital files and DVDs. Its literal, objective elements will never “change”. But it still looks different, feels different as time goes on and my own elements change. So perhaps, in a sense, objective things like movies do change as time goes on and the world it was born into evolves. It is the same movie and yet it will never feel the same way it did in 2006. “Things that seem still are still changing”, right?
I still think Over the Hedge is alright, but maybe a little more alright than when I started this article. It’s sweet, still makes me laugh, has some of the most wonderfully expressive animation I’ve seen to this day, and some truly great voice performances. And as much as it is all of those things, it’s also a fascinating examination of personal change, identity, futility, and how we react to change around us, and its songs are impeccable expressions of the inescapable promise of change. It’s funny how movies can have such a drastic duality like that. In a way, it’s comforting; Over the Hedge is not still, not fixed in any one interpretation, and neither am I. Like Vern, I find the change all around me daunting, and like RJ, I’m so caught up in the moment that I don’t realize when something inside me needs attention. But in the end, they were still there; just different. And when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll still be here; but different.
P.S., the raccoon is still hot. Thanks for that, Bruce Willis.