It Is Officially 'Over the Garden Wall' Season
The spooky Cartoon Network miniseries has become an autumnal rewatch tradition.
It's fall at last, which means the leaves are turning, pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps, you've traded your iced coffees for hot ones, and you're rewatching Over the Garden Wall. Or, if you haven't seen it at all, you might be wondering why those two little boys and their frog keep burgling people's turts.
Over the Garden Wall, which broadcast on Cartoon Network from November 3 to November 7, 2014 (and is now streaming on Hulu and HBO Max), is a ten-episode animated miniseries about two young boys, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), who get lost in a forest full of strange and sinister creatures, and must find their way back home before they're taken by an evil being called "The Beast." It was created by Adventure Time writer Patrick McHale and, like Adventure Time, it has a dark little heart masked by what appears at first to be simple child-friendly whimsy.
Let me make this clear: The show is scary. Every episode contains elements of the sinister and the uncanny, from vine-limbed pumpkin-headed giants to toothy black dogs with glowing eyes to people possessed by skull-faced demons kept in check with the ringing of a bell.
The show begins with Wirt and his little brother Greg (Collin Dean) walking through a dark woods, known as "the Unknown," Wirt searching for the pathway home while Greg bumbles around spouting "rock facts" and thinking up names for his pet frog. Along the way, they meet Beatrice, a talking bluebird (Melanie Lynskey), who promises them she'll help them find a way out of the woods.
The trio are intercepted by various forces along the way, including a frightened woodsman bearing a lantern, an anxious schoolmarm trying to teach forest animals to read and write while mooning after a lost love, a town full of people in pumpkin-heads preparing for a harvest festival, and a steam ferry full of dancing frogs. Each episode is its own self-contained story in their woodland escape, with titles like "The Old Grist Mill" and "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee," and always the threats in each are never what you expect; the thing that seems most sinister at the beginning turns out to be something familiar and comforting by the end. That is, until you get to the final three episodes, in which the endless woods themselves are revealed to me something much more terrifying than they seemed.
The word "cottagecore" wasn't part of the popular lexicon when this series first aired, but Over the Garden Wall is it. The two heroes are dressed in short pants, suspenders, cloaks, and, in Wirt's case, a pointy hat; the settings and characters for every episode have a distinct old-timey storybook aesthetic; and the animation is done with muted earthy colors unlike the vibrant shades normally used for animated shows geared towards children. Inspiration for the look was taken from old Halloween postcards, photographs of trees in New England, Gustave Doré illustrations, a color-printing technique called chromolithography, and an antique board game called Game of Frog Pond. The backgrounds of trees and farmhouses and rivers in every scene were digitally rendered to look like grisaille paintings, which are done entirely in shades of gray. It's one of the most beautiful digitally animated shows in modern memory—and rightly won an Emmy for it.
The show also includes musical numbers in every episode, which are best described as Appalachian folk songs by way of Tom Waits. The aforementioned schoolmarm sings an alphabet song to her students about her missing fiancé, Greg composes a bouncy earworm about eating mashed potatoes with molasses, and atmospheric narration is provided by folksy numbers like "Patient Is the Night," "The Old North Wind," and "Send Me a Peach."
Because it's a miniseries, it's able to boast celebrity voices among its cast, such as Wood (who also voiced Wirt in the 2013 short "Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody," which became the inspiration for the series), Lynskey, and veteran talents Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry. A couple episodes were even written by Adventure Time's Pendleton Ward and Natasha Allegri (who also, if you haven't seen it yet, created the adorable Bee and Puppycat).
Because it's so good, and because of its strongly autumnal vibe, Over the Garden Wall has become something of an October–November tradition amongst those of us who have been fans from the beginning, as well as new initiates to the phenomenon who just want to know what all the fuss is about. At only ten episodes that average around 10–12 minutes, it can be savored over a week or watched all in one night. As soon as the trees lose their green, the weather turns gray, and the chill breezes start wending their way down our streets and in through our windows, Over the Garden Wall offers coziness and comfort during the dreary, dark months.
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