Over the Garden Wall
Brothers Greg and Wirt trek through the mysterious and fantastical Unknown in an attempt to find their way back home. Throughout their ventures, they are tested by this unfamiliar world as they come to face their fears, form new bonds, and grow beyond their limits.
Spoiler Level: Low
In a dusty, leaf-blown corner of the world of animation rests a hidden gem of spectacular short form known as Over the Garden Wall. While this ten episode mini-series has seen no shortage of praise throughout its time (including two Emmy wins), it undoubtedly deserves miles more. Commonplace are the shows that can’t possibly live up to the hype that surrounds them—much rarer are the shows that are designed in such a way that the hype can’t live up to them. Garden Wall excels beyond any kind words that could be said about it, and exceeds any expectations that could possibly be set. This show isn’t just as good as everyone says it is; it is awesomely and obscenely better.
This is due in no small part to the limited run time. With ten episodes at about 10-15 minutes apiece, Garden Wall only has about two hours to tell its story, which allows for an immense attention to detail in the design and creation of the show. The autumnal imagery is visceral. The characters are unlike anything we’ve seen before. As you watch, it becomes clear that every last inch of this show has been considered, pondered, debated, and deliberate. It’s the difference between a manufactured Old Navy sweater and the handwoven wool pullover from a tiny Irish shop with a bell on the door. The two are technically the same, but everyone knows that they aren’t. Not in any way that counts.
Garden Wall is one of those truly rich stories that pulls from everything that came before it. The colors, the characters, and the scenery all harken back to the tone of oral tradition and folklore. It’s everything you learned about in that English 101 class you had to take, touched by the familiarity of modern storytelling techniques. Cautionary tales, and mixed motivations, and characters that evoke a deeply unsettling feeling right in the pit of your stomach. Happy endings, and sad endings, and endings that don’t feel like endings at all.
It’s The Odyssey meets Little Red Riding Hood meets Wizard of Oz meets Courage the Cowardly Dog. It is, at once, everything that came before it and its own entirely unique story.
Separate to this, but still somehow cohesive, is the setting design. The mystical forest world referred to as the Unknown acts as the visual representation for all of the strangest thoughts that children have during their youngest bonfires, looking out into the uneasy forest nearby. It’s one of those cliche reviewer things to say that a setting acts as an individual character, but never has it been so true as it is in Garden Wall. Human and American etymology led us to that phrase with the express purpose of it being used to adequately describe just how intimate the Unknown is. This show simply does not exist without the setting that fuels it. It acts as our antagonist, it gives us comfort when we need it, and it leaves us with the distinct impression that this world extends far beyond our viewership and continues on when we’re gone.
But it is the actual living characters that really make this show as spectacular as it is. The sibling dynamic is endlessly charming—Wirt as the serious, worrying older brother. Greg as the impulsive and carefree younger. These two play off of each other in a way that feels familiar in an otherwise terrifyingly unfamiliar world. They act as a constant to one another when everything else feels questionable. And yet, these characters grow so much in the short time we know them, not least because of the way the push one another. It is, again, another one of those storytelling pulls that Garden Wall puts its own twist on. Another uniqueness in the standard.
Their relationship exemplifies a larger theme of the show, so specific and intimate, though pertinent to all of us on our worst days: when the world seems scary and big and endless, search for your loves. Your constants. Your familiarity. The warmth will come with them.
Many will tell you that Over The Garden Wall is the perfect Halloween story, and while that’s true, it doesn’t give the series nearly enough credit. By all means, watch it on Halloween. Then watch it again over your winter break. Then again when the daisies poke up from the dirt, and again in the summertime for good measure. This story deserves your attention, not just as a beautiful annual tradition, but also as the magnificent piece of art that it is.
Over the Garden Wall: Familiarity in the Unfamiliar
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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