“Harrowing,” “disconcerting,” “incredible.” These are just a few of the words that I have heard or read other people describe Cartoon Network’s first animated miniseries “Over the Garden Wall.” The series, with just 10 episodes and only 11 minutes each, is about a teenager, Wirt, his younger brother, Greg, and a bluebird, Beatrice, and their journey through a large forest called The Unknown. Each episode is mostly self-contained but they together connect to form a more complete narrative.
The miniseries had almost missed me due to its low key advertising. Going into it, all I knew was that Elijah Wood was voicing one of the characters and that’s basically it. Along with a few short clips for the trailer, it also came with the tagline that it was a five night mystery. They played their cards right because I was not expecting any of the stuff they threw at me.
To be blunt, it’s a standard coming-of-age storyline that is similar to Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Grimm Fairy Tales but with a modern twist. The heroes of our story go on strange adventures where they meet equally as strange characters such as an old man (voiced by John Cleese) scared of his mansion’s ghost, villagers celebrating the harvest festival by wearing pumpkin outfits, a girl and her creepy creepy creepy aunt (voiced by Tim Curry), and more. These strange ministories are so delightfully charming that you can’t help but watch the next episode to see what else they’ll fine.
The characters’ interactions with each other are the definite highlight of the show. Wirt’s worrywart personality clashes with Greg’s wide-eyed, highly curious and overly optimistic nature. Beatrice tries to constantly overrule Wirt and force him to do things her way and she also gets annoyed at Greg for doing things she is totally against. Melanie Lynskey does an amazing job voicing her.
Wirt is probably the most interesting character of the three because he’s one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator I have ever seen. I know he’s not the narrator of the story but when he describes his backstory and his interpretation of events you initially believe him because why not? There’s little to assume that he would directly lie to the viewer. But once you see the actual events then everything seems to click on what kind of character Wirt is. What I like about Wirt and Beatrice is that once the series ends they have grown as characters but they have not outright lost their original identity. They are still who they are but with a more mature outlook on life.
But let me get to my overall feelings for this show.
This post is almost exactly how I felt about the show.
This show reminded me of something yet I couldn’t figure it out. It was so close yet so far. A piece here, a piece there, so many things triggered this upwelling sense of Nostalgia. It reminded me simultaneously of old Disney cartoons like the Old Mill (which debuted on November 5th) and especially of Ichabod Crane. Even before the penultimate episode reveal it especially reminded me of Autumn. And how appropriate given it premiered between November 3rd to November 7th. Even the soundtrack itself has a factor of nostalgia to it that you can’t quite place. The music is so charming that you can’t help but be moved by it. Some of the sillier songs have this quirk to them that you can’t help but like.
The song that took me off guard was Over the Garden Wall which was sung during the frog boat episode. This was episode 6 of the series and by then, I had already felt the marriage of uneasiness and nostalgia that was creeping on me. But once this song came on, I was figuratively hit by a thousand bricks. It dawned on me by then that this miniseries was something special that transcended other cartoon shows. I now almost regret writing my Cartoon Network Renaissance article as I could have included this show with it.
I have to talk about the last episode. I’ll have to spoil it but I encourage you to watch it yourself on iTunes before you read any more of my article. Anyways, by the time the last episode had premiered I was ready for it. What started off as a seemingly innocuous series had slowly broke down my critical exterior into showing me the wonder of the mysterious and haunting. And now, finally, Wirt has grown as a person. He has grown to accept Greg as his actual brother and care for him like he should. He has confronted the Beast and come out better in the end.
The real show stealer though was the Woodsman voiced by Christopher Lloyd. He was one of the few reoccurring characters in the series. The show played me like a fiddle as I went to and fro of whether I should trust him or not. However, his battle with the Beast was definitely a critical moment in the series. The creators had pulled the rug from us. It was neither Beatrice, nor Greg, nor even Wirt who defeated the Beast but the Woodsman himself. When he snuffed the Beast’s life, it rang a bittersweet moment.
But the final ending, of Wirt and Greg’s rescue, of Wirt’s now newly founded confidence, and so forth had sealed the deal for me. It was so moving that I could not help but cry as I saw each of the ending scenes reveal themselves to the enraptured viewer. I still get a little emotional just thinking about it.
I hope Over the Garden Wall returns next year, and the year after that, and so forth. This has to be an Autumn tradition. Where a lot of our favorite seasonal cartoon specials would come by, do their merry dance of Autumn delight and disappear, waiting to reappear again the following year.
“Nostalgic,” “moving,” “Autumn.” Those are the words that I think describes Over the Garden Wall perfectly.