By Sheila O’Neill
In early July, my roommate Kelly told me that I should watch a Cartoon Network mini-series called Over the Garden Wall. She raved that it was gorgeous and I needed to see it immediately. But I didn’t see it immediately. For some reason, I think my subconscious linked the title to Over the Hedge and gave me the image of a goofy, low-brow comedy. If Kelly hadn’t sat me down to watch it, I don’t know if I ever would have. Thank the old gods and the new for making Kelly sit me down.
First off, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my imagined view of the show. It took me exactly forty-five seconds to realize that. This is no one-dimensional, desperate-for-laughs cartoon. This is a frog sitting at a piano, singing a smooth song and inviting you to join him in a world of “If dreams can’t come true, then why not pretend?” Basically, the show plays out like a series of fairy tales lost to the ages, only to be found and revived with a modern sense of humor.
The backdrop for the show is a mysterious placed called “The Unknown” that lies in the middle of the woods. Wandering through those woods are two brothers: Wirt, (Elijah Wood) Greg, (Collin Dean) and their frog, who cannot hold down a name throughout the course of the show. Greg immediately becomes a source of comedy as the confident-but-clueless younger brother who is too excited about everything to ever grasp the concept of real danger. Wirt is just the opposite, feeling hopeless about everything from being lost in the woods to being lost in his unrequited, melodramatic love for a girl named Sara. Other recurring characters include the woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) who is seemingly trying to warn the boys about the dangerous beast who lurks in the woods, but whom Wirt distrust’s immediately and Beatrice, (Melanie Lynskey) a talking bluebird who begrudgingly helps the boys as they try to get home. These characters, along with the many residents of the Unknown who we meet along the way, are often strange and eccentric, but even at their most ridiculous, they’re grounded in a humanity that makes everyone feel very real.
If you’re still not convinced, let me throw some facts your way. The show’s creator, Patrick McHale, is a former writer and creative director for Adventure Time. Voice actors on the show include Tim Curry and John Cleese in addition to the already mentioned Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd. And the songs and score are often catchy, usually gorgeous, and all written in the style of early 20th century American music.
I don’t want to give too much away because (as the title of the article says) you should go watch it for yourselves. It only takes two hours to watch all ten of the 12-minute episodes, so it’s essentially a movie cut into segments, and it’s all available on Hulu+. If you don’t have Hulu+, just bother your friends about it. Someone will, eventually, come forth with a password. I promise.
But the most compelling reason why you should spend your time on this strange and wonderful mini-series is its genius mix of simplicity and complexity. At a glance, the plot is simple: two brothers are lost in the woods, trying to get home. And all of the adventures they go on and characters they come across are colorful and funny and very entertaining, but hiding just below the surface of all of this (if you care to look) is a world of complicated people, some with deep problems, living in a place full of stories that aren’t always what they seem. To truly understand what I’m saying, I think you’ll need to grab a friend and take a journey… Over the Garden Wall.
Sheila is a water-based being from the planet: Earth. Definitely Earth. No need to investigate further. Her geeky interests range from Buffy the Vampire Slayer & The Tick to xkcd & Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and beyond. Outside the mainstream geekosphere, she adores Broadway and reveres & worships her god, Stephen Sondheim. Sheila was once in a Firefly documentary, owns three foam chainsaws, and drinks an obscene amount of tea. Her pet peeves include bad grammar and the 361 days of the year when it isn’t San Diego Comic-Con while her hobbies include improv, juggling, and referring to herself in the third person.