Over the Garden Wall: a fall-themed feature you’ll fall in love with
So far during my time at Rensselaer, many people have asked me about the television shows I enjoy watching. Usually the answers vary depending on who’s asking. I, however, always make sure to mention Over the Garden Wall, the animated miniseries created by Patrick McHale that aired on Cartoon Network in 2014.
In fact, this is a show that I often call “essential fall viewing,” because the aesthetic of the show meshes so well with the changing colors of the leaves outside and the spookiness of Halloween; but this show can, and should, be enjoyed at any time of the year. It has a unique Gothic-inspired tone and art style, beautiful storyline, and unforgettable music. Also, the show is available on Netflix and has a total runtime of approximately 110 minutes, so it’s very binge-able.
In a nutshell, the story is about two brothers: innocent and fun-loving Greg, played by Collin Dean, and awkward self-conscious teenager Wirt, played by Elijah Wood, who get lost in the woods and try to find their way back home. All the while, they are accompanied by a talking bluebird named Beatrice, played by Melanie Lynskey, and are trying to avoid the Beast, played by Samuel Ramey, who haunts the woods. The brothers are given words of warning by the Woodsman, played by Christopher Lloyd, to steer clear of the Beast and his tricks. The supporting cast is also stellar; Tim Curry voices an old woman named Aunty Whispers, John Cleese voices the mysterious Adelaide of the Woods, and '60s singer Jack Jones provides the croaks of a frog whose name changes with every episode.
This modern day Grimm-esque fairy tale unfolds episodically, showcasing the most impactful adventures of Greg and Wirt’s journey through the woods, called the Unknown. The brothers encounter a town populated by pumpkin people, a woman attempting to teach farm animals to read, and multiple old women who are not all that they seem. In fact, that is the main theme of the show. Nothing is as it seems. The people with whom the brothers make allies and enemies are layered and have motivations that may not always be clear at first.
A journey is another overarching theme in Over the Garden Wall. Not only do Wirt and Greg go on a physical journey through the Unknown, they also experience emotional arcs that are impressively meaningful for a 10-episode miniseries aimed towards children. Both Wirt and Greg experience a coming-of-age over the course of the series that push them to their boundaries and make the audience empathize greatly with their development.
The art style is beautiful. The art directors, Nick Cross and Nate Cash, have created beautiful backgrounds to contribute to the mood of each episode, as well as an animation style that is dynamic and childlike, after all, this is still Cartoon Network. Whether it is a shot of the brothers and Beatrice walking deeper into the woods surrounded by autumnal colors or a ferry populated by singing frogs, the art in this show is always interesting. It is always fun to catch on to smaller details upon further viewings, especially in the intricately-animated title sequence.
The music, arranged by The Blasting Company, is consistently outstanding. The theme song of the series “Into the Unknown” is the kind of song you would whistle to yourself in the woods. Samuel Ramey’s operatic bass voice is haunting when he sings as the Beast. Compare this with “Potatoes and Molasses” a song that Greg makes up to help spice up a bland school lunch, with its whimsical instrumentation and nursery rhyme-like tune. A scene in an old tavern uses old blues-style music for the theme of a creepy highwayman and the crossing of genres during the reprise of one of the earlier songs makes the scene truly heartbreaking. This diversity of musical styles makes the series all the more enjoyable and adds to how well thought-out Over the Garden Wall was.
Over the Garden Wall is the perfect show to watch this fall. It’s engaging, beautiful, and has a soundtrack that I have definitely not played on repeat for a week.