Click. Click. Click. Yawn.
You’re flipping through Netflix, but you’ve seen every show about three times. There’s nothing good on TV, and Youtube’s trending videos look boring. You’ve finished all your homework, and your little brother is hogging the Xbox.
…What to do now?
When you’re all out of content to watch, life can get a little stale. As someone who thrives off of a good plot, I’ve always got a couple of shows waiting under my sleeve. Not only are they entertaining, but they can be great stress relievers and can easily add an extra burst of joy between those assignments you have due tomorrow.
The purpose of these review series is to introduce to those of you who’ve got nothing to watch some interesting shows. Not only that, but they’re the perfect excuse for me to re-watch some of the series I loved and revisit old memories.
Today’s Review Series is a series close to my heart: Over the Garden Wall.
Creator: Patrick McHale
Network: Cartoon Network
Genre(s): Comedy, Horror, Adventure, Dark Fantasy.
Episode Length: 11 minutes.
Blogger Rating: 9.5/10
Over the Garden Wall is an enchanting miniseries by Patrick McHale about two half-brothers who get lost in a strange forest called “The Unknown”. In trying to find their way home, the brothers encounter many different people, towns, and obstacles. One such obstacle is the legendary “Beast” who feeds on the souls of children who have lost their way, both physically and emotionally. It’s basically like a twisted fairy tale.
The half-brothers Wirt and Greg are incredibly likeable but complete opposites, almost being perfect foils of each other. Wirt — a high school student, clarinet player, and poet — has an awkward, sarcastic, cynical personality that can annoy his companions and get him into trouble sometimes. Greg, on the other hand, is a bubbly elementary student who believes that anything is possible. Joining them on their adventures is a rude, sarcastic, cynical talking bird named Beatrice, who clashes intensely with Wirt’s similar personality. Needless to say, the group makes a difficult bunch, but they manage somehow.
“It’s basically like a twisted fairy tale.”
Without giving too much away, the villain — appropriately called “The Beast” — has been named one of Cartoon Network’s darkest villains. With his deep, melancholic tune and ability to strike fear in any who approach him, this label may not be far off from the truth; he really is terrifying, especially in his rutheless pursuit to hunt down Wirt and Greg. His presence changes the cartoon from a light-hearted old film to a deep, dark horror film.
Perhaps the most enchanting thing about this miniseries is the beautiful, breathtaking artwork by the show’s art director, Nick Cross. While all of his work is done online, the majority of it is still hand drawn (using a drawing tablet). The theme? Strong contrast between light and dark. It really brings out the whole “dark but hopeful” motif that the show has going on, and makes you feel like you wandered into a children’s novel. Hansel and Gretel, here we come!
“The Beast has been named one of Cartoon Network’s darkest villains.”
The artwork is a stark contrast from the actual character animation, which is simple and colourful. Even so, the characters seem to blend in with their surroundings, thanks to the appropriate colour choices. Not only that, but the lovely musical sing-alongs and breathtaking OST accompanying the pictures will have you transported right into the world with them.
This really isn’t a show meant for younger kids, with its complicated mix of comedy, sarcasm, and horror that only an adult would understand. There are a lot of subtle jokes catered to the older audience, who would be able to understand Wirt’s embarrassing plight of a high school student. It’s also hilarious to see Wirt question the so-called fairy tale environment he’s been thrust into; he sees it as less of an adventure and more of a hell he’d like to leave ASAP. One of my favourite exchanges goes as follows:
Wirt and Greg are walking through the unknown in the hopes of finding someone for directions. After their failed attempt at trying to ask a woodsman for help, they are confronted by Beatrice, the talking bird:
B: “Maybe I can help you! I mean…you guys are lost, right?”
W: “(Gasp!) (*slaps his face*) What in the world is going on?”
G: “Well, you’re slapping yourself, and I’m answering your question, and–”
W: “N-no, Greg, a-a bird’s brain isn’t big enough for cognizant speech, and–
B: “Hey, what was that?”
W: “I-I mean, I’m just saying, you’re, you’re weird. Like, not normal. I-I mean–oh my gosh, stop talking to it, Wirt.”
See? Much awkwardness, so cynicism, such wow.
A quick Google search on Over the Garden Wall gives these promising review titles: “Easiest 10 I’ve Given in a Long Time”, “Cartoon Network’s Triumphant Return“, “A new golden age of TV animation?”, “A Perfect show that knew exactly how long it needed to be”, “A Cartoon Network gem, one of their best in a long time”, “A beautiful and harrowing Fairytale” (thanks, IMBd).
Clearly, the show must have done something right.
Out of all of the series I’ve watched, this has definitely been the easiest: with only 10 episodes at about 11 minutes each, it takes almost 2 hours to watch the whole thing in one sitting, something I’ve done with my friends multiple times. As a result, I’ve watched this series about 7 or 8 times, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.
“A beautiful and harrowing Fairytale.”
What’s so heartwarming about this story is that it’s about how an average Joe, your typical shy, nerdy high school student, a self-identified “loser”, can become the world’s bravest hero in his own awkward, sarcastic way.
So, why the 9.5/10?
There is nothing I can think of that this series did wrong. No plot holes, no character mishaps, no animation mishaps, nothing of the sort. Beautiful animation, deep plot, great metaphors, strong voice actors, and a great experience overall that had me, someone who almost never cries, dabbing my eyes at the end of the film.
My only complaint? Episode 8.
Appropriately titled “Babes in the Wood“, the entire episode focused on little Greg’s dreams, in which he tries to take Wirt’s place and find a way to bring the brothers back home by getting advice via dream world. When I asked the art director through his Tumblr page what happened with this episode, he said they were trying to make it “like an 80s cartoon”.
I get it. I really do. That doesn’t stop me from being incredily creeped out.
I felt uncomfortable watching that episode because it was just…so…weird. It’s supposed to be cute, but the dismembered baby heads did little to soothe my worries.That’s the only reason I don’t give it a perfect rating (although believe me, I was very close). Either way, this episode saved itself: the beginning was incredibly sad, and the end packed a massive shocker that left all viewers reeling back and clicking furiously on the “next episode” button.
On a final note, here’s something to look for when you’re watching. Consider it a tip:
The whole show is a metaphor.
The twisted woods? The Beast? The train? The steadily changing weather? All part of a massive metaphor, all forming one of those legendary “big ideas” that will blow your mind when you figure it out. If you’re an English student, you’re going to have a lot of fun analyzing the heck out of this one.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a 2 minute sample clip to reel you in:
So, what are you waiting for? Gather your friends, curl up by the fireplace, make some popcorn, and binge-watch this charming, enchanting, dark series in one night. Oh, and don’t forget those tissues: you’ll be bawling like a baby by the end of the night, I promise you.