Over the Garden Wall

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There is something in the woods…

As a child, I harboured a fear (though I never told anyone) of becoming lost in the woods. The frequency at which that kind of thing seemed to happen in children’s books left me thinking that it was a regular occurrence. Living in a forestry town didn’t help either. Nevertheless, the ominous allure of the forest was always enticing, with promises of mystery and intrigue. Over the Garden Wall presents exactly this.

Brothers Wirt and Gregory find themselves lost in the woods. They soon encounter a mysterious Woodsman (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) who welcomes them to the “Unknown,” stating they’re “more lost than they realise.” The two also receive a warning about “The Beast,” something that stalks the woods in the dark…

Teenage Wirt (voiced by Elijah Wood), is serious and somewhat pessimistic. He is the responsible older brother to Gregory, whom he sometimes finds frustrating, though Wirt does care deeply for his brother. Gregory, somewhere around six years old, is optimistic, imaginative and probably the most adorable child you’ve ever seen with an uncommonly good heart. He wears a tea-kettle on his head, carries around a frog whose name he frequently changes, and randomly makes up facts, calling them “Rock Facts” after a rock he carries around with a face drawn on it.

Creator and producer Patrick McHale has previously worked as a writer on the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and creative director on series 1 & 2 of Adventure Time (according to Wikipedia). McHale’s experience with Adventure Time shines out quite frequently, especially with the humour and randomness of the story. Sometimes it’s ridiculous, sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s downright disturbing, (I should mention that McHale is co-writing the stop-motion remake of Pinocchio with Guillermo del-Toro which sounds like it will be the greatest thing ever, of all time).

Besides modern cartoons, the story heavily borrows inspiration from literature and film from 19th and 20th century Americana. Racing through the darkened forest on a rainy night for fear of the “Beast” feels almost like running from the Headless Horseman. Racoons dressed in torn, patched trousers with suspenders and a hat looks a lot like Huckleberry Finn. Encounters with the Highway Man and a strange dream about the North wind look like they were animated by Walt Disney. The opening sequence is vaguely reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. And speaking of animation…

Nick Cross, the head of animation, has some serious talent! The characters are designed quite similarly to Adventure Time, but where his ability truly shines is the backgrounds and environments which are really something beautiful. Quiet forests with big twisting trees, light filtering down through the Autumnal leaves. Gentle streams flowing along random paths, so picturesque and serene you would almost expect to see Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad floating along in small fishing boats.

Paddocks with stacks of hay, pumpkins and squashes, turkeys, big red barns, harvest festivals and trees with gold and red leaves. It may be because I’m a Hobbit at heart, (I prefer the beautiful green of the countryside and the serenity it provides), but when I look through Cross’s environments, I find a great sense of peace welling up inside and I’m taken back to playing in streams and creeks with my brother. The darker side of the forest however seems to be drawing from the scene from Snow White when she running through the woods seeing monsters in the trees. Twisted, gnarled, leering figures looming over you with their reaching, grabbing branches. Gloomy dark paths that lead away to who-knows-what where something may be watching you, just beyond the shadows…

Adding to the tone of the story is the soundtrack. The overall score of the series is at times whimsical, charming, ominous or downright foreboding and while it does its job wonderfully, it’s the songs that you will most likely come away singing. Quirky songs made up by Gregory are another attribute of Over the Garden Wall that feel like they were bought over from Adventure Time and they’re probably one of the more memorable parts of the show, including a catchy song about potatoes and molasses that you won’t be able to get out of your head and a delightful waltz sung by a frog on a Mississippi-style steamboat. Other songs that occur throughout the series have references to Cab Calloway, Betty Boop and Gepetto just to name a few. The music that plays during the end credits is an awkward, disjointed piano piece that would have been right at home in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film.

Over the Garden Wall is a masterpiece. In all honesty I think it’s one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever watched. It benefits from multiple viewings as things you may not have understood earlier suddenly have light shone upon them and watching the series again, you will have multiple moments of “Oh that’s what that was!” Each episode is only 10 minutes (and there are ten episodes) so you can watch the whole series in an hour and a half.

Along with Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd (who I mentioned earlier), the voice cast also includes John Cleese and Melanie Lynskey (New Zealand represent, woo!). The minor characters encountered throughout the story are strange and interesting and rarely turn out to be what they seem. In fact, almost nothing is as it seems. While people and situations appear dark and foreboding, they may in fact be harmless and innocent, and things taken for granted often turn out to be far more sinister than they appear. Like who is the Woodsman? Why do the tenebrous Edelwood trees seem to have faces? Where is the loud singing coming from? This series will delight everybody but I feel like it’s the adults who it will truly unnerve.

And there is something in the woods…

-Tim Baker



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