If I have to pick a favorite aspect of “Over the Garden Wall” is the ambiguity of it all. There’s not a ton of exposition or explanation as to whom or what the characters Greg and Wirt are. We just know that they’re brothers, they have polar opposite personalities, and they’re stuck in a timeless land filled with dangers and mysterious oddities that they can’t possibly fathom. Along the way, Greg and Wirt learn a lot about the idea of grief, and confronting their fears, and learning to appreciate one another as brothers. They also have their own personality quirks that could count as flaws, but only make you love them even more. By the time the series ends, you’ll be glad you met them and realize you know everything that you need to know about them. I encourage you to fall in love with it like I did.
Wirt is the older brother, a lanky teenager who is very pensive and cautious, but also very open minded toward everything and everyone around him. Greg is the very definition of a child, an optimistic and wide eyed young boy whose cheery attitude is never affected. Even when he’s confronted with a dark monster, he is always smiling and even uses the idea of throwing candy at it as a means of fighting it off. He also has the wonderful “Rock Facts” which he uses as a means of validating often adorable observations by holding up his handy rock. “Over the Garden Wall” is such an imaginative and beautiful adventure and is never afraid to convey a sense of menace and dread. It’s very much for kids, but it can appeal to just about everyone, as it takes its overtones and themes with stern importance.
Greg (Collin Dean) and Wirt (genre veteran Elijah Wood) are learning something about their lives as they pass through the strange land of the Unknown. In the end we’re better for having followed them as we also get to take something away from the whole experience. The animated epic is a mix of Studio Ghibli, The Fleischer Brothers, The Brothers Grimm, and Roald Dahl, and evokes that sense of excitement and danger that we all felt as kids when embarking on a new quest. The land of the Unknown is a landscape without many rules, and doesn’t have a particular time period. It is, though, a land plagued with darkness and evil and punishes those that do wrong by one another. Beatrice the Bluebird (Melanie Lynskey), for example, is a talking female blue bird that follows the pair of brothers on their adventure to find the mythical Adelaide.
We learn along the way that she also has a mission to fulfill as well, as she and her family were cursed and transformed in to blue birds after she threw a rock at an actual blue bird. The trio of unlikely heroes has to travail the unusual and creepy lands of the Unknown coming across a peculiar series of villages, all the while being stalked by the horrific Beast. There’s the school of clothed animals that the trio take refuge in. This is the centerpiece for one of the most riveting moments of the series where Greg cheers his love for his unusual recipe “Potatoes and Molasses” by singing a cheerful song for the class. They inevitably come across a somewhat unnerving village of Pottsfield which filled with sentient pumpkins, all of whom are indulging in their yearly harvest festival. The pumpkins delight in worshiping all things autumn, and even carve their own Jack o Lantern heads. What we inevitably discover is a mix of morbid and sad, as the pumpkin people are, even though welcoming and harmless, anything but what they seem. There’s also the Ferry Ride with the quaintly dressed anthropomorphic frogs, all of whom encourage performances by Greg and Wirt as they cross with Beatrice, who begins to also reveal her ulterior motives for her quest to see Adelaide. “Over the Garden Wall” is just a downright excellent and often awe inspiring adventure that evokes everything that’s wonderful about Autumn, Halloween, and fantasy in general.
It never underestimates its intended audience, allowing for adult themes, genuinely creepy villains, and a narrative that’s intricate in the way it unfolds. By the time the final episode rolls around, everything essentially comes full circle as we learn so much more about Greg and Wirt, and how they managed to stumble in to the Unknown and become targets of The Beast. Patrick McHale’s miniseries is over much too quickly, but it manages to build an intriguing world that’s worth discovering, even if it can prove to be quite dangerous every now and then. The whole aesthetic of “Over the Garden Wall” excels at timelessness, even when McHale helps us learn much more about Greg and Wirt and how they managed to jump in to their predicament.
Like most fans of “Over the Garden Wall” there’s so much more that I want to learn about the Unknown forest, Pottsfield, and all of the other villages and abodes out there. Nevertheless for what we were given in 2014, “Over the Garden Wall” is a genuine gift and deserves to be celebrated as a bona fide Halloween treat that celebrates everything fun and dangerous about the holiday and time of year.
And that’s a rock fact!