It begins with the sweet bass voice of a singing frog moving to the smooth, low chords of a southern gospel song. The story is that of Wirt and his brother Gregg, as they travel through a mysterious forest whose eccentric inhabitants all seem trapped or struggling with mythical creatures. None of them, however, is as mysterious or frightening as the haunting and ever deceiving Beast. Will Wirt and Gregg find their way home despite all the obstacles on their route?
I could be that a-hole who immediately tells you the answer, but it’s the holidays and I guess I could be nice. This one, me loves, will be spoiler free.
At first, Over The Garden Wall seems like yet another cute little fairy tale about brothers lost in the forest. I grew up reading Hansel and Gretel, Hop-o’-My-Thumb, Jack and the Beanstalk, and other fairy tales where lost kids could potentially get eaten by giants and other beasts. This show reminds me of those fairy tales: it’s short, efficient, and despite trying to lighten the atmosphere with childhood innocence and brightly coloured candy, it can’t quite hide the darker tones of its story. The journey of Wirt and Gregg towards their home is the focus here. However, it quickly becomes clear that not only is their home very far, but that they might never even reach it. There’s a hint of hopelessness in every episode, the kind that you might have felt if you ever were separated from your parents in an unknown place when you were a child. Despite knowing that they’re going to eventually find their way (because c’mon, this is still a kid’s show), you can’t help but feel sorry for them. Maybe it’s the way their need for a shelter and their focus to reach home is integrated in the story. Maybe it’s the dark colours, only cut by bright oranges and reds. Did I mention that the visuals are gorgeous?
Speaking of gorgeous visuals, Over The Garden Wall had me wondering: is literally everybody who has ever worked on Adventure Time a genius? Because it certainly feels like it. The guy behind the project, Patrick McHale, is from the Adventure Time team, and it shows. There’s always a particular atmosphere to those projects, something about the simplicity of the drawings, the very modern language, and the use of music, that is recognizable about them. I don’t know if it’s too early to call it that, but I like to think of it as “The Adventure Time touch.” Not that the projects have anything in common despite that. Stephen Universe, Bee and Puppycat, and Over The Garden Wall are as different as three animated shows can be. Over The Garden Wall in particular separates itself from the other projects in that it’s a miniseries. There’s a very clear progression from beginning to end, which perhaps makes it a little bit less random, a little bit more predictable. Honestly, if you’ve read my short synopsis at the beginning of the article, you can probably already guess where the show is going and what it’s really about. I didn’t mind though, because the writing is good, and the characters are complex and engaging. In the end, it comes out as a really poetic coming of age story.
Any real downsides then? It’s really short. I must admit that I was left wanting more at the end of it. Despite the show having a good ending, I was just disappointed that I didn’t get to hang out in this universe and with those characters a little bit more.
All in all, Over The Garden Wall is short, sweet, dark, and gives an enjoyable spin to one of the oldest tropes in the history of storytelling. I would recommend it to anybody who’s got an afternoon to spare.