OVER THE GARDEN WALL Is The Best Thing that the Cartoon Network Has Done – Review
Over the Garden Wall is Cartoon Network’s first-ever miniseries, a series in ten parts over five nights. And, simply put, Over The Garden Wall is the greatest thing Cartoon Network has ever produced. And I feel complete confidence in saying that.
From a short entitled Tome of The Unknown produced by series creator and ex-Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack storyboarder, writer, and director Patrick McHale, Over The Garden Wall is the story of two lost boys and their travels on their way to finding home once again. The eldest, Wirt (Elijah Wood), is a high-schooler with a penchant for poetry and clarinet. The brains of the operation, so to say, although he’s just as lost as his younger brother. That would be Greg (Collin Dean), who wears a tea kettle on his head, carries a frog whose name changes on a constant basis, and has a couple totally false “facts” to tell– they’re “rock facts”. They’re eventually accompanied by Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), a bluebird trying to undo a curse that she caused that has afflicted her entire family. Helping them along the way despite how detrimental that help may end up being to himself is the Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd).
Along the way, Wirt and Greg find new towns and new friends and hear and participate in a ton of songs. And all of it is downright gorgeous, which is the first thing that strikes you when you dive in.
The scenery and background shots throughout the series are incredible. Everything looks hand-painted (and very well may be) and magical. For example, the episode we saw at New York Comic Con, episode two, “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” has an incredible fall color palette and Halloween pumpkins-and-skeletons mosaic. The establishing shots that open the episode are beautifully animated leaves, landscape shots, birds migrating, some turkeys– it’s all orange and yellow tinged and makes the entire episode feel like fall.
Not every episode is as wonderfully bright, and that’s good. The staff on the show used color so perfectly well. It gets progressively darker, you might notice, and it’s great, because the tone gets darker and darker. By the time we reach the tip of the climax of the story, it is the darkest it will ever get. Lots of grays and blacks with bright colors used for either effect or to color the snow-covered landscape that spells danger for everyone.
Outside of color, the show has great character design and art direction. It has such gorgeous backgrounds: a lot of them look like pastel or oil paint and even have some texture that looks very much like canvas. The animation has some true highlights (the Highwayman’s dance from episode four, “Songs of the Dark Lantern”, is absolutely one of the most must-see moments in the show simply because of how incredible the animation is) and every character looks amazing. The main cast is well-designed but once you start to branch out and the story is told, some of the people and non-people, I suppose, you meet are amazing: the animals in Miss Langtree’s class in episode three, “Schooltown Follies” are charming as hell. It’s a class made up of animals in kids’ clothing— inside the classroom, there’s a cat, a pig, a fox, a dog, a rabbit, and outside hanging out with Greg are the truants, a possum, raccoon, and deer. Episode two’s pumpkin characters are awesome and each one has a different look ranging from simple Jack-o-Lantern faces to great 20’s cartoon character eyes. Episode eight, “Babes in the Woods”, throws us into a dream city of Greg’s that is full of characters that are so childishly drawn and beautiful and it’s one of the biggest highlights of the series. I could go on and on.
Something so gorgeous has to have something just as magical to accompany it and the music in this show is incredible. The show has a pretty nice range that showcases some awesome dixieland jazz, ragtime music, and folk music and some fantastic bits and pieces of opera and more. The music is so crucial to the show and the story– the show itself begins with a song that frames the entire story. Some episodes have the music completely at the front and center: “Songs of the Dark Lantern” has it in its name, and the entire episode has the main trio stopping at a tavern for directions only to get asked by the patrons (the butcher, the baker, the midwife, master and apprentice, the tailor, the tavern keeper, and the highwayman) who they are– not literally “who are you, what’s your name?” but “what’s your title and what do you do?” Almost every patron has something to add, and that something is almost always a song. One sings about getting Wirt ready for his wedding day after misunderstanding his question, one sings of his work, the tavern keeper sings a warning to the boys, and even Wirt gives a really embarassingly bad go at a song.
“Schooltown Follies” features a song from Miss Langtree lamenting her missing, no-good love, Jimmy Brown, and also features the song that will probably end up being a trademark of the entire miniseries, Greg’s song about potatoes and molasses (“they’re warm and soft like puppies and socks, filled with cream and candy rocks!”).
Besides the songs that get the spotlight, there’s the Beast’s operatic howling songs that come out of the woods when he’s there that aren’t just impeccably sung, but also creepy as hell (which is so perfectly fitting), and the score of background music that rules just as much as anything else you’ll hear. It all ties the show together in its period.
The cast and the acting also deserves accolades. Your main cast is great– Wood, Lynskey, and Dean have great chemistry and they make you love them immediately. Christopher Lloyd is also fantastic as the Woodsman. But, there’s also a nice big roster of guests that deserve to be recognized and praised here: Jack Jones does a good amount of singing and some narrating with his amazing voice. You’ll also be running into Chris Isaak, Regular Show‘s Sam Marin, Tom Lennon, Fred Stoller, John Cleese (who has two roles as two of my favorite characters throughout the series), Tim Curry (who also has one of my favorite roles), Shirley Jones, and Adventure Time‘s Cole Sanchez.
The story here is basic: two lost boys trying to get home, and along the way they get help from a bluebird and a bunch of other friends they’ll meet along the way, but it gets less basic as it goes on and creator Pat McHale created an amazing universe here with some of the best characters you’ll find in a show right now. As the show goes on, the woods we’re in get creepier and creepier and as the leaves die and the orange skies leave, the world that lives over the titular garden wall gets darker and darker. The show isn’t just a straight comedy, it gets dramatic from time to time and when you finally start reaching the climax of the show, things will shock you, things will sadden you, things will surprise you and Garden Wall is so well-equipped to make it all work perfectly. An amazing cast. Incredible, spectacular, gorgeous art. Amazing, beautiful, sing-along-able music. A cast of characters that you will not be able to help feeling for and caring about deeply.
When I got to episode nine, “Into the Unknown”, I was actually shocked. This episode reveals how Wirt and Greg got lost in the first place, and without spoiling anything for you in the case you’re waiting to see the episodes on TV or just haven’t been able to get them on iTunes yet (or have but haven’t looked at them yet), I must say: I’ve never seen anything like it in a show on a network for younger people. And that’s part of what’s cool: Over the Garden Wall is so perfect for such a broad range of people. Cartoon Network shows in recent years have been really good at getting a good, wide audience. Young adults, kids, teenagers. Some older adults sometimes. Garden Wall seems like it can grab a whole lot more. There’s plenty for the kids, but there’s also plenty for people who have a TV diet of ambitious dramas. It’s goofy, and it’s a comedy first and foremost but when it gets serious, it does it brilliantly. Some tears were brought to some eyes towards the end.
Television these days is so full of things that are out of networks’ comfort zones. AMC’s courage to go out of the box and bring on shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad let networks know that this is what people wanted: ambitious projects that are different from every police procedural and three-camera sitcom with a laugh track. It told them to try that stuff and stop letting HBO hog all the interesting content fun. Cartoon Network has been trying new stuff for a few years now, with shows that tread a line between kids’ entertainment and entertainment that’s a little bit more grown up, but Over the Garden Wall feels like the first time the network has really broken out of its boundaries and gone with something new and fresh and interesting and it ends up being something that I hope is remembered and talked about forever. People talk about FLCL still today. They talk about the characters, they talk about the art, the animation, the music (people are in love with the Pillows), everything.
I can only hope this is remembered as fondly and as lovingly. It sure deserves it.
It’s the best thing Cartoon Network’s done.
If you missed the series, $9.99 will get you the whole thing on iTunes. It’s worth it.
Over the Garden Wall is incredible and I love it, and I sincerely hope that once you see it, if you haven’t, you’ll feel the same way. And if you have, isn’t it just the greatest? Let’s go watch it another ten times. You can play some great cartoon themed free slots no download to have some more time whit you favorite cartoon movie characters.