The 2014, ten-piece miniseries first aired on Cartoon Network and has become a cult-classic in the years since.
We’re in one of the coziest seasons right now. It’s autumn. The trees are turning brown and the air is cooling down and Halloween was just last week. Granted, the transition is going rather slowly, but but we’re entering jacket weather, the season of blanketed nights on the couch, watching weird horror films with friends. Or not; everyone has their own autumn traditions or lack thereof. This one’s mine.
“Over the Garden Wall” is an animated, ten-episode miniseries that aired on Cartoon Network Nov. 3–7, 2014. It follows the adventures of two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), a bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) and Greg’s frog as they travel through the Unknown, a massive forest filled with odd things and people inspired by 19th- and 20th-century Americana. I would describe the genre as something like folk-fantasy.
Cartoon fandoms bother me as much as anyone else. Shows like “Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe,” while perhaps entertaining in their own rights, tend to attract massive fanbases with obnoxious obsessions. This is no fault of the shows themselves, though, so when people scoff at the mention of their names I feel a pang of empathy for the creators (though I doubt they care).
“Over the Garden Wall” has the advantage of having been only a miniseries. It’s short, its characters have all been as fleshed out as they ever will be, all the plot events have been satisfied and the show is over. There’s a run of comics that depict events concurrent to the series, but “Over the Garden Wall” began and ended in satisfying fashion, effectively quashing the possibility for annoying fans. All you get, instead, is self-indulgent journalists who’ve run out of ideas.
Yes, the series aired on Cartoon Network. Yes, the target audience is mostly children. Yes, there are a couple of episodes that lean on this childish crutch, and can make the watcher feel a little ridiculous. The themes lying behind the series, though, not to mention its atmospheric and visual quality, make for an engrossing watch. I make it a point to watch this series all-the-way-through every year at around this time, from episode one to ten. It’s a series, yes, but it’s so much more enjoyable to watch like it’s a film, clocking in at just under two hours.
So what makes this children’s program so enjoyable and accessible by adults? I suppose the first point is the humor. It’s simple and easy to get, relying on visual cues just as much as the dialogue itself. It can appeal to children, but it feels very adult at the same time. Yes, there’s plenty of jokes aimed at and accessible only by children, but it feels like one of those kids’ shows that’s designed with the parents in the mind. Closer to the truth, perhaps, it was made with both children and adults equally in mind.
Next is the art. The animation is fluid and rich, about the quality you’d expect from a studio-backed work. The range of emotion displayed through the characters’ rather simplistic designs is impressive, though perhaps not particularly unique considering the animation quality Cartoon Network is known for.
Beyond the animation is the background palettes. They’re paintings of washed-out, somehow beautiful fall colors. Lots of browns and greens, some oranges. Forests and fields and towns look real, traversable, like they’re right over there. As per the series’s Wikipedia page, “[Series creator Patrick] McHale referenced chromolithography, vintage Halloween postcards, magic lantern slides and photographs of New England foliage to create the show’s style.”
The artistic direction comes together to depict some other-worldy 19th-century America, spanning from Appalachia to the Mississippi. The art helps to form a mood that works off old folktales and familiar, pastoral scenes of America’s past. It’s weird to localize this fantasy miniseries, but it truly feels American.
The other ingredient that works wonderfully with the art is the soundtrack. This one is a bit more difficult to describe, but it all feels so authentic. Period-appropriate music is playing at all times; the opening theme is a despondent, catchy piano riff with a wonderful male bass vocalizing; when things get dark (and they do get dark) the soundtrack complements it just as I’d imagine an 1800s American band would. The last thing I’d imagine from such an aesthetic — given its campy, specifically catered usage — is pure, unbridled beauty. We get moments like that a lot, though, and the show is all the better for it.
This is the perfect time of the year to watch the show. I’ve left out all the plot elements because I truly don’t want to divulge anything. It’s a wonderful journey to undertake yourself, with the end-product being anything but childish or kid-oriented. This miniseries exists purely for the Halloween-Thanksgiving season, and I urge the reader to take a couple hours out of one weekend to watch it, right now the whole series is on Hulu. You won’t regret it, and maybe you’ll have a new seasonal tradition.