Patrick McHale’s critically acclaimed mini-series Over the Garden Wall is a mystifying journey through the Unknown; a place where rationality is absent and anomalies are expected.
Wirt, a reserved and anxious teenager, and Greg, his younger half-brother and an embodiment of exuberance, hope to return home from the Unknown- but they haven’t a clue where they began. Greg, being wholly unconcerned with their predicament, simply soaks in the surroundings in a display of nostalgic and youthful fascination. Greg’s curiosity and adorable ignorance are fitting displays of adolescent carelessness, and his character consistently brings bouts of longing for the days where consequences seemed nonexistent and adventures seemed endless.
Throughout their journey, Over the Garden Wall consistently portrays this dichotomy between the anxiousness of maturity in Wirt and the hopefulness of prepubescence in Greg. Whilst these qualities would already be enough on their own, Over the Garden Wall takes its excellence one step further. The series is host to layers upon layers of symbolism and alternative meaning which await the vigilant viewer. In total, Over the Garden Wall’s ease of emotion, combined with its beautiful animation and music, irreplaceable voice-acting, and unpredictable depth, culminates into an unforgettable experience that far too few have indulged in.
Over the Garden Wall would not be itself if not for the intangible coarseness of its design, which utilizes a visceral art style reminiscent of 16th century oil paintings. The series almost solely utilizes drab, earthy colors and soft, deep backgrounds; fitting displays for the forested setting in which the series unfolds. This style of art is unusual for cartoon animations, which are typically brazened with vibrant hues and sharp, bright backgrounds.
The earthy, subtle tones utilized in Over the Garden Wall favor the realism of the show; which is fitting for a show which rarely shies away from opportunities to demonstrate its maturity. This maturity manifests in multiple ways throughout the series; whether it be Wirt quoting desperately dismal poetry, or the revelation that true innocence is absent among all characters, the adult tones of the show resonates throughout its structure and dialogue.
In whole, the animation is a key component in making this maturity passable, as many reflective moments would fall flat if not for the already depressed tone of the art style. This, along with the old-timey folk music utilized throughout the series, set the perfect mood for a strangely fantastical adventure through the woods and into the Unknown.
The journey into the Unknown is charismatically characterized and undoubtedly improved by the perfectly cast voice acting. Standout performances include the voices of Elijah Wood (Wirt), Collin Dean (Greg), Christopher Lloyd (Woodsman), Melanie Lynskey (Beatrice), Samuel Ramey (The Beast), and John Cleese (Quincy Endicott). Each role feels irreplaceable, and although only standout performances were listed, a weak link is nowhere to be found. Every voice performance fits its character’s mood and fits the strange, quirky, nature of the series as a whole.
Voice acting is often an under-looked aspect of cartoons and mini-series; but with Over the Garden Wall, the importance is noticeably apparent. Even a passive viewer can easily recognize the excellence and professionalism of Over the Garden Wall’s voice actors, which is a testament to the articulate attention to detail found in all attainable aspects in the show.
While the creativity, art, and voice acting of Over the Garden Wall already make the series mystifying on their own, the series is also ample host to depth and darkness. Over the Garden Wall has sparked numerous intelligent analyses of the symbols and allusions available to the passionate audience, and this passionate audience grows every year. Many of the secrets held within Over the Garden Wall are slowly revealed, piece by piece, throughout the series, but at the end of the show, many still remain.
This is perhaps Over the Garden Wall’s greatest strength; its willingness to withhold; its resistance to the temptation of outright explanation. This resistance allows for interpretation and significance, which is exemplified by the hours and hours-worth of theory and explanation videos found throughout Youtube, Reddit threads, and other forms of media. Far too often, show creators have very specific interpretations of exactly what they’re creating, and then cannot resist spelling out these interpretations in black-and-white to their audience. This need for explanation, however, is an indication of poor story-telling.
Therefore, credit should be paid to Patrick McHale and the other hyper-aware producers who leave their audience’s interpretations open. This openness, in spite of what the producers’ own visions may have been, creates a community. It creates a following, it creates theories, it creates a set of plausible explanations. Fandoms form, theories grow, and series prosper. Interpretations create a desire; they fuel a passion. They are what keep shows alive; they’re what makes a series age well.
This possibility of interpretation is exactly what makes Over the Garden Wall so damn good, it’s what makes it so re-watchable, and it’s what makes it feel like an entirely new adventure during every inevitable journey back into the Unknown. Over the Garden Wall is a series which evokes questions, and is a series which isn’t afraid to leave them unanswered. Depth is found for those who seek it, and interpretations are available for those who want them- but everyone’s answers are their own. While they may not be definitive, they are somehow more fulfilling that way– they’re personal.
Ultimately, Over the Garden Wall’s brilliance is perhaps best realized in that its profound meaning is found imbedded in something so seemingly meaningless. It taps into humanity’s most profound ponderings; prying open the ageless questions that have confounded the minds of history’s greatest. The answers are uncertain- but that’s what makes them valuable. The series takes us on a journey into that which we cannot see: A pilgrimage to the other side– a search for what lies deep within the Unknown.