Don’t Touch That Dial: Over the Garden Wall Retrospective
By Jarron Gravley
For the past six (or so) years, there has been an increase of American animated series that have gone beyond what could be expected from cartoons for children. Shows like Adventure Time, Regular Show, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil have all premiered and featured unique worlds, interesting characters, compelling story arcs, and distinct styles of comedy and humor. These shows have been adored by critics and audiences alike (myself included) , and each of them gaining large online followings, particularly from teenagers and adults. While all of these shows are targeted at a younger demographic, several of the creators have come forward saying that these shows are actually made for adults, but they’re appealing to a family audience. Today, we’re going to discuss a unique animated experiment and experience that is unlike any other we’ve seen, even out of the aforementioned series.
Over the Garden Wall is an animated miniseries which aired on Cartoon Network in November 2014 over five nights. The series was created by Patrick McHale, a former writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
The show follows the story of two boys, Wirt and Greg, who find themselves lost in a vast, dark forest, which is part of a mysterious world aptly called The Unknown. Throughout their adventure to find home, the boys encounter creatures and characters both friend and foe, including a pet frog with an ever-changing name, a woodsman with a tragic past shackling him down, a talking bluebird, and a sinister shadow known only as The Beast.
The show’s visual art style is one of its biggest draws. It evokes the aesthetic of classic 19th century folk art and Americana. The show takes place during autumn (which I believe is the perfect time to watch it), and thus its color palette is filled with gorgeous shades of brown and gold. The art style compliments the characters and narrative perfectly, as it adds to the two tones that the show expresses through its story: whimsical playfulness and looming dark shadows.
The show’s music is nearly perfect. The score is composed and performed by the Petrojvic Blasting Company, a group which has that classic 20’s-30’s Cab Calloway-esque jazz sound. This also adds to the both the aesthetic and charm of the series. Along with a spectacular score are a few brief musical numbers. While the show isn’t particularly a musical, it certainly has moments of either characters breaking out into song or a lyrical song being used to express the mood of the scene. Rounding out the sound of the show is the voice talent behind the characters, which is particularly top-notch, with a cast of well-known actors such as Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry.
Each episode builds off each other perfectly, leading to a sense of suspense and discovery that I think every show should have. Each character evolves throughout the series. There’s a major plot twist towards the end, which I certainly won’t spoil, but it really puts everything back in perspective, especially upon repeat viewings. I’ve watched it from start to finish several times, and each time, I’ve gotten something new from it, which is something I can’t say for a lot of TV shows or feature films. The show is art, and I think everyone can, and should, experience it.