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Over the Garden Wall

Entry updated 27 January 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2014). Cartoon Network. Created by Patrick McHale. Directors include Nate Cash, Nick Cross and Bert Youn. Story by Amalia Levari, Tom Herpich, and Patrick McHale. Voice cast includes Emily Brundige, John Cleese, Tim Curry, Collin Dean, Christopher Lloyd, Melanie Lynskey, Samuel Ramey and Elijah Wood. Ten eleven-minute episodes, plus the pilot, Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013). Colour.

Walking through a dark wood are Wirt (Wood), a fretful teenager wearing a red cone and blue cape, and his step brother Greg (Dean), a happy child wearing an upside-down teapot on his head and carrying a frog. Greg is reciting a list of the very worst names for the frog when he is stopped by Wirt, who has realized they are lost. A Woodsman (Lloyd) warns them, "The Beast is afoot here"; Beatrice (Lynskey), a talking bluebird, offers to take them to Adelaide (Cleese), who would help them get home.

Adventures follow, mainly Horror-tinged but stylistically varied. Most memorable are a village's Harvest Festival, the inhabitants revealed to be clothed skeletons wearing pumpkins as heads: this turns out to be both less and more ominous than it first appears; after Wirt turns down an offer to stay the speaker remarks, "O well, you'll join us someday" (see Eschatology). At a cottage Wirt befriends a young girl controlled by the unnerving Auntie Whispers (Curry) and tries to help her – but finds there are reasons for Auntie's actions. A lighter episode features a young woman and her school for animal children. Beatrice, as she reluctantly grows fonder of the pair, tries to dissuade them from meeting Adelaide (they do meet her, but escape). Episode 8 has Wirt succumbing to despair and, as the snow falls, blaming Greg for their predicament. Greg, after a journey to a charming 1930s cartoon cloudland, shoulders the responsibility and prepares to sacrifice his freedom to the Beast (a creature always in shadow, save for one glimpse – see Monsters)

Episode 9 is chronologically the first: it is Halloween in 1980s small-town America, the brothers' attire now explained (Greg is dressed as an elephant, the teapot's snout the trunk). Wirt is trying to pluck up courage to give his crush, Sara (Brundige), a mixtape. Events lead to the brothers fleeing a graveyard (the "garden" of the title) and falling into a lake. The final episode has a rallied Wirt confronting the Beast (Ramey), preparing to bear the burden it seeks to impose, but then exclaims "... wait, that's dumb!" as he realizes the true situation – the Beast is not strong but extremely vulnerable. The Brothers awake in hospital, with Sara and friends at their side; Wirt has grown, his bitterness and hostility towards his step-brother now gone. The apparent explanation, that events were Wirt's near-death experience, is blurred by the ending: we see the woodlanders again, their lives happier – including the Woodsman and Beatrice (who, having been cursed – see Magic – is now human again).

The series, created by a former Adventure Time staffer, won the 2015 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Programme. Though there were a couple of weaker episodes in the middle, overall this was a remarkable mini-series, seemingly depicting a visit to Purgatory. It is thematically complex and nicely animated, evoking eighteenth- to early twentieth-century Illustration (see also Comics) and 1930s animation, rich in rural Americana and European folklore, whilst drawing upon Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Often dark and creepy, as befitting a Halloween show, Over the Garden Wall also features much Humour and memorable songs. [SP]


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