Have you ever been lost in a forest for an hour? What about a day? Minutes feel like hours when all you see is trees upon trees upon trees, stretching out for what could be only a few miles, or a few acres. The rules are different in the woods—cell service is spotty, if there is any at all, and you don’t know what wild animals hide in the foliage. It’s terrifying, right?
“Over the Garden Wall” is a children’s mini-series that takes that primal fear of getting lost in the woods and turns it up to the max. It was created by Patrick McHale and Katie Krentz, and released on Cartoon Network in November 2014. The series follows half-brothers, Wirt and Greg, who find themselves lost in the woods just beyond their town’s cemetery after Halloween. Wirt, the elder of the two, is a nervous person and tends to keep within the rules. He somewhat resents Greg, his free-spirited and eccentric little brother.
As the two attempt to find their way out of the forest, they encounter a cursed blue bird named Beatrice, who promises them a way back home and a woodsman with a lantern he keeps lit with oil from the seemingly endless Edelwood trees. The woodsman warns Wirt and Greg of a beast that stalks to forest, preying on vulnerable children, and gives them directions back to civilization.
As the series progresses and the boys get more and more lost, the story forces us to confront our own self-centeredness and strained relationships with family, while showing us the significance of determination and hope.
In addition to its amazing plot and themes of family and hope, “Over the Garden Wall” has a unique, hauntingly beautiful animation style. The muted and limited color palette, as well as the use of vintage elements such as old frames and technology from the Industrial Revolution, gives a sense of old mystery and curiosity to the forest. The simple shapes the animators use for the characters we’re supposed to root for (such as Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice) contrast against the twisting, claw-like shapes of trees and the Beast.
The design of the Beast, while simple, is incredibly effective. For the majority of the series, all we see him as is an antlered shadow, hidden in the safety of the trees, eyes glowing as he watches Wirt, Greg, and the woodsman. His luminous eyes are a clue into his true nature, and his connection to the incandescent lantern the woodsman carries around—they say eyes are windows to the soul, and the Beast’s character design seems to take that quite literally, as his soul feeds off the fire in the lantern. In order to keep his spirit lit, the Beast convinces whoever holds the title of lanternbearer that a loved one’s soul is in the lantern.
Near the end of the show, when the woodsman confronts the Beast after realizing he had been tricked into believing his daughter was in the lantern, we get a brief glimpse of the Beast’s true nature as his shadowy cover is disrupted by light. We see that he’s made of pink and brown Edelwood trees, the wood that forms his body twisting and turning such that it seems almost as if he’s made up of hundreds of screaming faces. The design and the timing of its reveal is horrifically effective, adding to the general eeriness of the series.
In addition to captivating animation, “Over the Garden Wall” is a show all ages can enjoy. For one, it’s easy to watch; at just 11 minutes per episode, the show in total is only about two hours long, but it makes good use of the short time it has. While still retaining the whimsical, somewhat nonsensical aura about it that most kids shows tend to have, the deeper message of the importance of family and hope, as well as the riveting plot and hints of horror embedded in the story, make “Over the Garden Wall” an amazing show for kids and adults alike.
Although some episodes in the show are definitely aimed towards a younger audience, “Over the Garden Wall” is perfect if you love animation, horror, and a heavy-hitting plotline. Although it’s probably best watched in late autumn with a cup of hot chocolate and a few friends, the show is a timeless masterpiece. If you’ve got a few hours of free time and are craving something nostalgic and beautiful, “Over the Garden Wall” will have you hooked.