Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Over the Hedge

Things have been so stressful lately that I started filling the Netflix queue with lighter fare; I thought Over the Hedge, a Dreamworks animated feature with animal characters, would fit the bill. But it turned about to be about a raccoon who cons a clan of forest creatures into gathering food to help him pay a debt to an angry bear. Lies, deceit, looming deadlines . . . ah, yes, very relaxing.

Janet and I had a hard time engaging the movie at first. RJ the Raccoon, the anti-hero turned hero of the movie, was just too self-serving to inspire much love. Normally, when you have a main character on the lower echelons of life, you have to have some scenes to establish their likeableness and virtue. Disney's Aladdin might be a street rat and a thief, but he winds up giving his bread to some other poor urchin; he’s low but he’s noble, and oppressed by an evil order to boot. We don’t get that with RJ; we just see a greedy, theiving creature, who’s compulsion to have everything lands him on the bear’s bad side. And his predicament was peculiarly dire for a kid’s movie; it’s not often that a villain is so blunt to say, “I will find you and I will kill you.”

Admittedly, we needed to have such a despicable character in such extreme duress to have a personal transformation to build a story on. From a narrative standpoint, I liked RJ’s arch. He continues to follow his self-serving trajectory, even as he begins to feel greater and greater guilt for his con. He still leads the Family into great danger, and (once again) risks everything to get the very last can of Spuddies. It’s only when he hits absolute bottom – realizing that he has become the moral equivalent of the Bear – that he has his conversion. I have a soft spot for redemption stories, especially ones that follow a character waaaay back into the dark and bring them back out again. (That’s the only reason Angel held my interest for so long.) But this is a kids’ movie, for God’s sake.

Thematically, the film was a few shades too dark, as well. It was quite acidic in its critique of suburban life, in the Fun with Dick and Jane genre. Are we supposed to feel smug and superior, that we see the vacuousness of our own lifestyles and can laugh at it? Maybe we think we’re better than the Evil HOA President because we don’t drive an SUV and wish vicious deaths on woodland creatures, but really, how different are we? And if “civilization” is just one broad swathe of air-conditioned shallowness fed on junk food, blotting out the natural order, where does that leave our heroes? The story may austensibly praise the virtue of families, but it leaves them living in a very insecure world, surrounded by corruption. It’s not a world I would wish on my young kids, even in a story.



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