The Animation Corner: “Over the Garden Wall”

BY BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM

Author’s Note: This section is dedicated to calling attention to lesser known animated movies and television. If somebody has a suggestion for me to review or discuss, please feel free to email me and I will see what I can do!

Rating: 5/5 Stars

To say that “Over the Garden Wall” (2014) is an achievement in animated television would be a gross understatement and a terrible injustice to this masterful creation. I can assure you that “Over the Garden Wall” is unlike any animated show you have ever seen and, quite possible, ever will again.

Winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Animation Program, “Over the Garden Wall” is a deviation from Cartoon Network’s traditional style of simple 2D animation to fulfill episode quotas. It is a dark fantasy miniseries spanning 10 episodes of 11 minutes each, with special artistic attention given to both the overall aesthetic appearance and the stirring themes. Creator Patrick McHale (Creative Director of “Adventure Time”) presents a fairy tale about teenage Wirt—voiced by Elijah Wood (Frodo: “Lord of the Rings”)—and his younger half-brother Greg, who get lost in a mystical forest named the Unknown. In a chain of events reminiscent of a classical medieval quest, Wirt and Greg attempt to find their way home. Along the way, a sarcastic bluebird called Beatrice—Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”)—guides them, and they are stalked by an ominous presence known as the Beast.

The animation in “Over the Garden Wall” is absolutely stunning. It is highly creative and intricate, and it takes at least two viewings and many pauses to catch all the details. That may sound like a great time investment, but I guarantee that after watching the whole show once you will want to see it again. It is obvious that the animators spent a tremendous effort in studying specific periods, from Victorian clothing to Rococo architecture to Renaissance literature.

The heart of “Over the Garden Wall” rests primarily within the development of Wirt, as the quest is a test of his inner strength. It is clear from the beginning that Wirt is not your typical hero; he is socially awkward, indecisive and struggles with insecurity. Though he is the older brother and the de facto leader, it is a burden of which Wirt wants no part. Greg’s curiosity, adolescent impulsiveness and amiable nature lie in sharp contrast to Wirt’s personality, creating a slow-rising tension throughout the series. Wirt’s inhibitions are as amusing as they are piteous, but the Unknown gradually strips those away, forcing him on a journey of responsibility and maturity.

One of the greatest elements about “Over the Garden Wall” is its use of deep symbolism and allusions to reinforce key themes. These symbols are also used to foreshadow certain events in later episodes and to provide clues about the universe that the show does not explicitly reveal. For example, turtles are a significant role in the show but are left ambiguous as to their actual meaning, leading to all sorts of theories from devoted fans. Another important aspect of the show is that it draws heavily from Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” with influences on the name “Beatrice” or the literal and figurative episodic nature of the series.

If the show has any faults, it is that it is too addicting. All of the characters have several endlessly quotable lines—“Candy camouflage” and “You seem like a pushover, but you’re not—deep down in your heart, you’re a stubborn jerk!” are two of my favorites—that will pop into your head at the most random moments. There are also a few humorous songs that will stick with you as well, such as “Potatoes and Molasses” or “Langtree’s Lament.”

There are few shows that can entice me to smile every time I think of them, and “Over the Garden Wall” makes me laugh every time. It is a show that any person can find delight in and is sure to provide guaranteed entertainment for any who venture into the Unknown.

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