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Mobile Shrubbery
"Take care of your cardboard box, and your cardboard box will take care of you."

"I would first go to my old thieving standby: dress up like a bush."
Strong Bad, Homestar Runner, sbemail "bike thief"

Alice hides from Bob behind an inanimate object. When Bob moves away or isn't looking, she picks up the object and follows him. The object is most often a bush (hence the name), but it may be anything that fades into the background (such as a cardboard box or traffic cone).

Frequently the object will end up somewhere it has no right to be (e.g., a shrub may end up in the middle of a street). Sometimes the object will fall apart almost completely, leaving them with only a few twigs left, which they then either look at and toss away, or maybe continue to hide behind.

This can actually be Truth in Television to a degree. It's called "Change Blindness." So long as Bob doesn't actually see the bush move, there's a good chance he won't notice that it's in a new location. There are some very fascinating videos on YouTube on the subject.

Often this overlaps with Paper-Thin Disguise, but not always; if Alice is competent, she need not actually be obvious to Bob, only to the audience. If the object used to hide is literature of some kind this can be a Newspaper Thin Disguise.

If the shrubbery is stationary, that's Tree Cover.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • In Sailor Moon SuperS, when Chibi-Usa is in a restaurant with Mamoru, the girls spy on them by hiding behind statues and stuff, and moving closer to them. She does notice.
  • In one episode of Mahou Sensei Negima!, a trio of cheerleaders do this to Negi and Konoka, in increasingly absurd fashions, until one point where they are dressed up in can-can dancer outfits and conceal themselves by using the enormous peacock-like feathers attached to their outfits to create a giant poofy wall. Negi points this out, but still fails to realize he's being followed.
  • In a chapter of Ranma ½, a jealous Akane does this to spy on Ranma and Nabiki.
  • Team Rocket from Pokémon does it often.
    • After agitating a pack of Mightyena with his Coordinator skills, Ruby gets his ass saved by a figure shrouded in leaves, which he mistakes for a talking Pokemon and commands his Poochyena to attack. He only gets a clue how wrong he is when the shroud comes off...
    Sapphire: This is how you treat your savior? You ungrateful little brat!
  • Konohamaru's signature move in pre-Shippuuden Naruto, using a blanket painted to look like a section of fence and a box painted to look like a one-foot-tall brick wall (as lampshaded by the abridgement).
    • A fence-post blanket, it should be noted, that he holds sideways. And then he compliments Naruto for seeing through his disguise.
      • A similar gag appears in Dragon Ball, where Agent Murasaki tries to hide from Goku by leaning against a tree and holding up a bark-pattened cloth, but instead holds it up backwards, the reverse side being an American flag. Oops.
    • In the Hidden Star Village filler arc, Tenten and Lee hide under a barrel while following two of Akahoshi's henchmen. They get discovered quite easily.
  • In an episode of Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i, Dolores attempts to avoid detection by satellite cameras by carrying a tree while moving through the Florida swamp. It works until somebody monitoring the cameras notices a tree that suddenly appears in one shot and vanishes the next.
  • In Muhyo And Roji, Roji and Muhyo walk into a client's house while hidden in large pots in order to stake out a haunt.
  • At one point in the second series of Rosario + Vampire, Kurumu, Mizore, and Kokoa begin trailing Gin, all three girls hiding under cardboard boxes and peering out through the slits normally used as handgrips. Oddly, they've drawn mouths on the boxes under these openings — and the "mouth" on Mizore's box has her trademark lollipop drawn sticking out.
  • In Digimon, Takato tells Guilmon to stay in the box. He does. As he goes all over town at will.
  • In Ratman a Jacky reveals they got into the hospital by hiding in cardboard boxes labeled MSG4.
  • In SD Gundam Force's second season, Grappler Gouf and Destroyer Dom sneak aboard the Gundamusai while hiding under cardboard boxes. This wouldn't be so bad, (As that episode's Zako Zako Hour shows them successfully blending in) but they've also cut holes for their mono-eyes- in the shape of their eye-screens! (Grapper's even has the scar he has)

    Comic Books 

    Fan Fic 

    Film — Animated 
  • In Toy Story 2, the members of the rescue party each hide under traffic cones to move safely across a highway (wreaking havoc on the cars in the street) Woody and Buzz did it first in Toy Story, using a drink cup and a burger box to sneak into Pizza Planet.
  • In Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Ellie (a mammoth) attempts unsuccessfully to hide from the vultures by using bushes. Well, she did think she was a opossum... (Long Story.)
  • The native Americans in Peter Pan actually do this to capture John, Michael, and the Lost Boys.
  • Near the middle of The Aristocats, the evil butler Edgar disguises himself as a haystack mounted on top of a sidecar in order to escape Napoleon and La Fayette the dogs.
    Napoleon:Sounds like a one-wheeled...
    La Fayette:A one-wheeled what?!
    Napoleon:You're not gonna believe this, but it's a one-wheeled haystack!
  • When everything starts going south for Gaius Julius Caesar in Astérix Conquers America, he escapes the Roman Camp in this fashion.
    Gaul: Halt! Who goes there?
    Caesar: A barrel, you fool!
    Gaul: Oh, a barrel.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Charlie Chaplin dresses as a tree in World War I comedy Shoulder Arms, when he has to sneak behind German lines to gain intelligence. This works pretty well, until a German soldier decides to chop him down for firewood.
  • In Genghis Khan, the Khan does this when he and his small band attack an enemy camp, disguised as shrubbery.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Jack and Will use the tactic with a canoe for about five seconds, until it becomes a means of allowing them to breathe underwater instead.
    • Jack also does this poorly in Dead Man's Chest, where he tries to sneak out of the bar and away from ex-Commodore Norrington by crouching behind a potted plant and walking Cossack-style along the floor.
  • In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Ace holds a palmetto frond in front of himself in order to sneak past his landlord's window. Then he throws away the frond, onto the pile of fronds from all the previous times he snuck past.
  • Stanley Stupid in The Stupids gets a bit… carried away.
    Stanley: This walking bush! He lives in two worlds, but is the master of both! OH, MAN-BUSH, YOU ARE NATURE'S GREATEST WONDEEEEEEEER!
  • Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of Macbeth, naturally uses this just as Macbeth itself does. The spirits tell the Villain Protagonist that he will never be defeated until the forest moves. For what happens next, check what page you're on.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy has a textbook example of this trope.
  • The end of the James Bond film, GoldenEye, has him being picked up by a squad of US Marines. He never knows the Marines are there..until they stand up on orders from his CIA contact. For bonus points, Bond was so sure they were alone he and the Bond Girl were about to get it on!
  • In The Great Race we get our first glimpse on Professor Fate and his assistant Max when he is following Leslie's latest deed inside a shrubbery.
  • Caddyshack has:
    Carl Spackler: Pay no attention to that bush, moving around over there by that tree, it's just a bush. Nothing to look twice at. Nothing to be alarmed about. This looks like it could be gravy.
  • 3 Ninjas: Kick Back: After Rocky and Colt fail to attack Grandpa, Tum-Tum attempts a sneak attack using a bush while Grandpa's back is turned.
  • The Japanese soldiers who invade California in 1941 disguise themselves as Christmas trees. Hollis Wood even tries to chop one down, and gets rather confused when it jumps out of the way.
  • Happens in Muppets from Space as Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Animal and Pepe try to infiltrate COVNET to save Gonzo and Rizzo. The bush only goes as far as a short distance from the guard station- whereupon the Muppets apply some of Dr. Honeydew's invisibility spray.
  • Be Kind Rewind. The protagonists break into a power station wearing jumpsuits marked like the fence they're climbing, including part of the KEEP OUT sign. Played for Laughs when a police car stops to investigate and they freeze in exactly the right place to match with the sign.
  • Red. Frank Moses has to go to retired Femme Fatale Victoria to get patched up. The others are convinced she might shoot him instead, but she's quite friendly once she realises Frank isn't there to shoot him. She tells Frank to lie down so she can look at his injury, "And tell Marvin to stand down before he gets hurt." Cue zoom in to Marvin badly dressed as a bush out the window behind her.

    Literature 
  • Exploited by Arthur in Lord Sunday when hiding from the titular trustee. It starts out as Tree Cover under a sorcerously crafted illusion of a shrub (granted, not a real one). When Arthur needs to move on, he considers dismissing the illusion; however, he then decides that walking plants probably aren't especially out of place in the Incomparable Gardens. On the other hand, he doesn't maintain the cover when he reaches an area where it would stick out like a sore thumb, so that particular common consequence of the trope is avoided. Although the book doesn't actually explicitly mention that he dismisses the illusion at that point, it can be assumed that he does.

    Live Action TV 
  • Parodied in an MST3K episode; Pearl and Brain Guy hide behind small, almost foliage-free branches.
  • Done in Spaced. Tim appears to be alone, talking about how much he hates Daisy's new dog. But the large bush behind him is actually Mike, practicing his camouflage skills.
  • M*A*S*H
    • Radar attempts to shadow Hawkeye using this technique, to little effect, in the episode "I Hate a Mystery". Klinger also tries to escape from camp by disguising himself as a shrub in "Dear Peggy"; he says he would have made it if not for that dog.
    • Colonel Flag has a covert meeting with Winchester by hiding himself in a garbage bin. After Winchester leaves, someone comes out of the kitchen to empty a load of garbage...
  • The BBC wildlife documentary Lions: Spy in the Den features Boulder-Cam, a remote-controlled camera disguised as a boulder festooned with leaves, which the camera crew use to infiltrate the lion family. Similar techniques and disguises are used in the subsequent Spy in the... programs (cameras disguised as dung for filming elephants, a Salmon-Cam for filming grizzly bears fishing, a Tortoise-Cam for filming migrating wildebeest, etc.).
  • Played with on Candid Camera Prank show Trigger Happy TV. A woman enters a hedge maze, and men dressed as bushes keeping moving around, changing the maze to confuse her.
  • Trying to evade Siegfried, Max and 99 sneak along under a cardboard box...only to see Siegfried following them in another box.
  • Played for laughs in 'Allo 'Allo!, when Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering don bulky and lifelike tree costumes for a spying mission. They end up having to give chase in them. Cut to two trees (plus other characters) running after a dog that had stolen an important Knockwurst sausage (it makes sense in context- honestly).
  • Parodied rather hilariously in The Mighty Boosh episode "Mutants". During a montage where Howard is tailing Dixon Bainbridge, Bainbridge is shown walking across the screen followed closely by a large, conspicuous hedge. Moments later, Howard himself walks past, looking around and on the alert.
  • Dad's Army: In "Don't Forget the Diver", Jones disguises himself as a tree and is pushed along a river by Frazer in a diving suit as part of a plan to capture a windmill.

    Theater 
  • In some productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick uses this to hide from Leonato, Don John, and Claudio while they're discussing how much Beatrice loves him. Of course, the joke here is that they know he's there the whole time, even if he thinks it's working.
  • Older Than Steam examples in Shakespearean scripts:
  • In Finians Rainbow, the leprechaun Og disguises himself as a tree to follow Finian, who is secretly burying his stolen pot of Og's gold near Fort Knox in hopes it will grow. Finian is totally drunk and even ends up dancing with the moving tree.
  • Used in some productions of The Pirates of Penzance to conceal the police from the pirates, and later the pirates from the Major-General. The scene already has both parties using ineffectual methods of stealth successfully, so it's very much in the spirit.

    Video Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, you can hide in a barrel in this fashion. The Moblin guard will not notice you even if you significantly shorten their patrol path by hiding in it, even as their noses clip through the barrel. (They will likely, however, notice if your barrel is assaulted and consequently broken by a Rat, but only because you'll be standing out in the open.)
  • In the Metal Gear games, everyone knows there's no disguise more effective than a cardboard box. That is, until Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots came up with the Drum Can. Less conspicuous in the urban ruins, plus lots of fun to lay on its side and roll around in. Both the box and drum can return in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and both a pretty effective. What's more, enemy mooks now hide in cardboard boxes themselves.
  • In Little Big Adventure II this is done by the aliens after they land on Twinsun. Nearly every street has a walking trash can, and the Desert Island is full of moving cacti. Bonus points for the fact that they shoot at you.
  • Quest for Glory:
    • In Quest for Glory I, there's a goblin disguised this way.
    • Quest for Glory IV has the Leshy disguised this way.
  • In Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf, the player (as Ralph Wolf) could hide in a bush to sneak past Sam the Sheepdog. If you weren't careful a sheep would eat your disguise.
  • Used by Rayman in Rayman 2 The Great Escape, to get past a security guard. The guard does spot him, but lets him through anyway ("It's just a big-nosed bush!").
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 has the Allied Mirage Tank, which takes on the appearance of a tree when idle.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3's new Mirage Tank turns into a Lamppost and Milk Truck when on roads preventing the issues of RA 2's Tank turning into a Tree on a street...
  • In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers video games, you can duck while carrying a box to hide from enemies. The presence of blinking chipmunk eyes on the box does not give away your presence, amazingly enough.
  • RuneScape has Penguin Hide and Seek, where you try to find penguin spies disguised as bushes, rocks, giant mushrooms, crates, and for Halloween, pumpkins. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Toejam And Earl featured an enemy called the Mailbox Monster which, at a glance, appeared to be a normal mailbox from which the player could buy presents through mail order. However, if the player approached, it would sprout arms and legs (with eyes visible through the mail slot) to pursue the player. If the player watched it for long enough without approaching, it would open the mail slot to peek out, revealing its eyes.
  • Commander Keen IV: The Secret of the Oracle has enemies that hide under boulders (much like the Toy Story 2 traffic cones). They're harmless (and well camouflaged) when stationary, but deadly when moving.
  • In Psychonauts, the "Milkman Conspiracy" level has mailboxes which'll open the mail slot and look at you. If you turn your back on them, they'll start sneaking toward you until you turn around.
  • A cheat in Age of Empires give you archers that walk on water, and turn to trees when standing still. Even when standing on water. Useless against CPU's, but fun against players.
  • In World of Warcraft, two variants have been used. One has a tree suit made for the character so they can observe a traitous meeting, the other has a new Death Knight using a 2D wooden 'tree' to ambush a messenger (complete with a lampshade hung by said messenger).
  • Two of the Spy mission cutscenes in Medieval II Total War have your agent trying to sneak past Those Two Guards in a bush. The cutscenes are identical up to the point the walking bush slips into the gate, or the guards get suspicious and stab the mobile shrubbery.
  • In the (hilarious) action/RTS hybrid Giants: Citizen Kabuto, the Meccaryns has a literal Mobile Shrubbery in form of a backpack. When activated, it transforms the player into a shrubbery. Perfect for sneaking around behind guards, who fails to notice why there is a bush where there shouldn't be one!
  • A Mario Party game involves the players sneaking to a door by a sleeping chain chomp. When the chomp wakes up, the players must quickly duck into the barrels or else they will be captured and taken away. If they don't stop fast enough, the players will for some reason be unable to duck their entire heads into the barrel and still be caught.
  • Team Fortress 2 has an unofficial mod called Prop Hunt, where one entire team is disguised as props, frequently shrubbery, and hides from the other team among the scenery. Hilarity often ensues.
  • Yoshi's Island has Spy Guys, Shy Guys who hide beneath a batch of yellow flowers. They make a reappearance in Paper Mario, this time wearing camo and hiding under a bush.
  • One of the stealthier mooks in Donkey Kong Country Returns is almost entirely covered in shrubbery.
  • You first meet Alouette hiding in a cardboard box beside your door in Recettear.
  • Joe And Mac has some enemy cavemen hiding underneath shrubs.
  • In Modern Warfare, the mission "All Ghillied Up", as its name suggests, has Price and McMillan stealthing around in Ghillie suits. Later games also have enemy Ghillie snipers.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has a walking bush stalking Mr Gumby through the game's opening area.
  • In LEGO Lord of the Rings, using Frodo's Elven Cloak or the Mithril Camouflage Tome lets you do this. In Cirith Ungol, Frodo has to disguise himself as a crate to get past Orc sentries.
  • In Kirby Triple Deluxe, crouching while Kirby is using the Archer ability will have him conceal himself behind a randomly chosen cardboard cutout and he can crawl around while it's in place. It's usually something sensible, like a shrub, rock, or star block, but rarely, he'll bring out something more bizarre, like King Dedede or the HAL logo. Regardless of what's used, he's almost completely invincible as long as he remains still, though enemies will still actively target him.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Fourth, Lord Skärva disguises Derk and himself as these to sneak into town. It doesn't work.
  • Pops up in General Protection Fault: when Ki is spying on Nick's dates with Trish and Trudy, and there's no potted plants close enough for her to hide behind, she carries one of them with her as she moves closer to the table to eavesdrop.
  • Thief from 8-Bit Theater hides behind a bush at one point, and follows Black Mage and Fighter through a city gate using the disguise.
  • Hilariously spoofed in The Last Days of Foxhound.
  • Bina and Julie use a recycling bin in Monster Pulse to sneak through a shady facility and rescue their monsters, carrying it over their heads and hiding in it by crouching down. Complete with an Unsound Effect 'sit' when someone walks by.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible follows Penny and Captain Hammer around like this during "My Eyes" in Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
  • In the Strong Bad Email bike thief, Strong Bad suggests this as one of the possible methods he'd use to steal someone's bike. He also points out that he can use this method to get free pizza from Bubs just by asking for it while in disguise.
    Strong Bad: (as a bush) Can I have some free pizza?
    Bubs: Sure thing, bush!
  • Dozens of "There are X ninjas hiding in this picture." Can you find the ones that aren't a joke?

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in the Wallace & Gromit short "The Wrong Trousers": Gromit spies on Feathers McGraw while hiding in a box. It turns out the box has a drawing of a dog on it, with Gromit's peep holes right where the eyes would be.
  • Appears frequently in Scooby-Doo, mostly involving Scooby and Shaggy.
  • This trope is so frequently used in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies that it is difficult to think of specific examples. One finds it impossible to recall, for instance, "Don't Give Up The Sheep," in which Ralph Wolf disguises himself as a shrub and Sam Sheepdog chases him disguised as a tree.
  • The Simpsons
    • Sideshow Bob once hid behind a group of palm trees that just happened to have the exact shape as his hair.
    • And in the twentieth Halloween special, Lisa hid herself behind a sunflower that was exactly the shape of her head.
  • The Wombles use the cardboard box variety in one episode.
  • The Doctor uses the cardboard box version in the Doctor Who animation "Dreamland". When his alien companion asks how he knows where he's going, he explains he counted his steps.
    Doctor:Always count your steps, Saruba Velak. You never know when you'll need to escape in a box.
  • In Mater: Private Eye, Mater actually disguises himself as a wooden crate in order to sneak past Big D's henchpitties.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen" Twilight briefly follows Pinkie around while hiding in a shrub. Subverted in that Pinkie knew Twilight was doing so, but was pretending not to notice.
  • In the Family Guy episode "I Never Met the Dead Man", one cutaway has Peter sneaking into a movie disguised as a bush, which is completely pointless since he's indoors.
  • When Cameron is exiled to Bony island in Total Drama All Stars, he disguises himself as a fire hydrant and follows a bear around till it pees on him.

    Real Life 
  • Ghillie suits.
    • Urban Ghille suits are starting to be seen now, with people hiding themselves in things like Wal Mart discount bins and displays.
      • This one was being marketed as a safety thingy for women.
  • Malcolm III of Scotland's supposedly used this tactic at Dunsinane, as in Shakespeare's play Macbeth.
  • The World Famous Bushman of San Francisco.
  • James Coldwell of Manchester, New Hampshire, who attempted to rob a bank in 2007. Disguised as a tree. Successfully. "He really went out on a limb." Hilarious.
  • There are some ads for the Navy that appear to be a picture of a rainforest. Until you read the caption at the bottom listing the half-dozen men in the picture. There's another one that shows a dozen security camera captures from a desert, taken every few seconds, with bushes visible. The bushes disappear somewhere between caps 7 and 8. How Not To Be Seen, apparently.
  • A large amount of animals, particularly the less intelligent ones, like reptiles and amphibians, aren't very adept at identifying threats unless they're moving. This means that you may be able to easily walk up to them from behind, and as long as you stay still when they turn around, they'll just assume that there was always a stationary, person-shaped object right there. This subverts the trope in that you don't need a shrubbery, but it follows the same pattern of "move while their back is turned, pretend to be a shrub when they look at you." Said pattern is pretty much the modus operandi for ambush predators. The Gaboon viper is an exceptionally good example. It's a large venomous snake that blends into dead leaves and sits still, then strikes incredibly fast if it sees prey or a threat. Even when looking at a picture of one, it will take a while to find it.

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