Rewatching Over the Garden Wall has become an autumn tradition for many and it should for you too; here’s why!
Over the Garden Wall, released by Cartoon Network in 2014, is a show that simply could not exist under the circumstances of media today. Even in 2014, an entirely original IP miniseries, aired over the course of a week on live TV, was practically unheard of within the animation industry. Patrick McHale, previously known for his work on Adventure Time and The Marvelous Mis-Adventures of Flapjack, created and wrote the series (including the music) and that fall, an underrated classic of the season was born.
Over the years, Over The Garden Wall has gathered a passionate fanbase, praising the show for its potent nostalgic fall atmosphere balanced with something more fantastic, its lovable characters, and its memorable story. It is a triumph in storytelling and if you’ve been holding off because it’s animated or if you’ve been sitting on the fence, now is the time to reconsider!
The Aesthetics of The Unknown
The aesthetics of Over the Garden Wall, without putting fine a point on it quite yet, come down to the essence of a season. The show captures a nostalgic concept of fall and Halloween, that we all have come to find comfort in inadvertently, but represents a time older than any of us really recall. Specifically, one often seen in early 1900s Americana.
Tome of the Unknown
Starting to watch Over the Garden wall, beginning with the short film that serves as the pilot. pic.twitter.com/Xb4wIuia2i
— John O’K (@JOKftw) October 8, 2022
It calls to mind a world that is familiar to our own, but foreign to us. Only existing within the confines of vintage illustration and photography. Despite The Unknown often feeling welcoming, it can easily become intimidating to the viewer as you begin to process just how massive it is; with a look that remains cohesive, but never predictable for long. You may be in a historical early American farming village in one episode, but the next at an 1800s schoolhouse or a sprawling Georgian manner. It is one of those shows that when you see a single frame of the background, you know exactly where it’s from.
Going for that Miss Langtree look I guess pic.twitter.com/ftMjanyju2
— Trey the Explainer (@Trey_Explainer) October 16, 2020
The show’s visuals keep up with the story without breaking a sweat, always raising the bar on what the audience might see next. It is modern, with bold shapes to represent its character, but timeless in its warm, autumnal color palette.
happy over the garden wall season 🎃🍂 pic.twitter.com/kAMuB2LBKy
— adrianna 🦇 (@suchewianki) September 23, 2023
It is an irresistible miasma of a childhood fall day made fantastic and foreign.
A Charming Cast of Characters
fall means watching over the garden wall. pic.twitter.com/Lo52TI0p46
— violet✧*｡ (@violettweets_) October 1, 2023
Once you have fully delved into The Unknown, the next thing you immediately begin to contend with is your main characters: Wirt, the most 14-year-old boy you’ve ever met, and Greg, the most 6-year-old boy you’ve ever met; it is this fundamental relatable built into the two that makes them incredibly easy to charm an audience with.
The ever talented Elijah Wood, the voice of Wirt, perfectly captures the teen angst of being stuck with your little brother in a crappy situation. Desperately trying to be the responsible one, keeping on task, but failing as Greg—off in his own mind as always—continues to drive them into becoming more emotionally invested in whatever situation they find themselves in. Wirt doesn’t really know who he is or, more aptly, doesn’t like who he is: which is a big nerd. He goes on long poetic monologues to express his melancholy, he still makes cassette tapes, and he plays the clarinet. It is through his journey into The Unknown that he learns to become bolder, unashamed of his passions, and more caring.
Inversely, it is Greg’s (Collin Dean) optimism and genuine love for the lives of others that keep them going despite whatever failures they may encounter. He refuses to let anyone’s bad energy keep him down, finding the best in the world around him no matter what. If you’ve ever spent any time with a six-year-old without an attention span, but he wants you to build a blanket fort with him anyway? That is Greg. His energy is infectious and it is hard not to buy into the whimsical way he sees the world at times, even when it can become frustrating to the older people who don’t understand.
Complete with a charming cast of oddball side characters, such as Beatrice the cursed bluebird (voiced by the indomitable Melanie Lynskey), Christopher Lloyd as The Woodsman, and Tim Curry as Auntie Whispers, Over The Garden Wall, does not attempt to only corner itself into one audience.
An Unconventional Coming-of-Age Story
The story of the show is deceptively simple (which is for the best since it only has ten episodes). Two brothers, Wirt and Greg, suddenly find themselves in a strange place called The Unknown and are desperate to find their way back home. With the help of a bluebird named Beatrice, and many other strange folks along the way, the brothers attempt to navigate a weird new world.
However, beneath the digestible premise, lies a wealth of thematic storytelling and theories to be had. While many people have done interesting dissections of the text over the years, pointing out the show’s various allusions to death such as “the old black train”, The Beast, and the many, many skeletons; even going so far as to compare it to Dante’s Inferno. While these are all valid interpretations, at its core, Over the Garden Wall is a coming-of-age story about realizing your morality. It is a deeply melancholy story at times, directly approaching concepts that often scare us, such as driving the people we love away or secretly thinking you’re a bad person, but fall is a season of change.
Over The Garden Wall wants you to understand that it is not wrong to fear the unknown, but you can also learn to appreciate it, like the changing leaves. You cannot truly buy more time, you must learn to enjoy it now and not allow your fear to hold you back. Whether it be beasts that lurk in the dark or how to talk to girls.
There is something contained within this story that will resonate with you and the childhood anxieties that still live in all our minds.
Autumn is meant to be spent Over the Garden Wall pic.twitter.com/RYS1X2tXdR
— Into The Forest Dark (@ElliottBlackwe3) September 27, 2023
Yes, We Can Talk About The Soundtrack Now
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about everybody and their mother about the soundtrack to Over the Garden Wall? Truly the icing on the cake of an already great series, the music by The Blasting Company and Patrick McHale helps cultivate the entirely unique atmosphere. With tracks reminiscent of old American folk songs and classic jazz influence, these songs are going to be stuck in your head for days or weeks to come.
Or, if you’re me, they will be stuck in your head anyway, because you listen to it on your walks when you want to pretend it’s just a little colder than it actually is. While there’s an entire hour-long soundtrack that could be discussed, I will only be highlighting a few songs that I think are particular standouts. If you love any of these songs, I highly recommend watching the series and/or listening to the soundtrack on Spotify or YouTube.
“Into the Unknown” has become by far the most iconic track of the series, with the opening riff practically becoming a meme in itself due to how recognizable it is. It is indicative of the series’ mood and style, perfectly capturing what you’re about to get into as a viewer.
“Patient is the Night” is another heavily jazz-influenced track, creating a gentle warmth that screams crunchy leaves and pumpkin patches. If someone put this on while I was sitting in front of a fireplace, I would definitely not be upset.
And finally, the song that is going to be stuck with you until the day you die. “Potatoes and Molasses” is like a catchy plague released upon the populace in 2014; once you hear it, you cannot unhear it. You will be in the supermarket and catch yourself humming it, you’ll be making dinner and catch yourself thinking it. “Potatoes and Molasses” is a testament to the power of a cute and catchy tune that doesn’t drive you crazy, but it certainly does brand itself into your frontal lobe.
It is nothing to sneeze at that a 10-episode animated miniseries with a short runtime still has a loyal following nearly an entire decade later. It is a wonderfully unique experience that you cannot find anywhere else and, in my opinion, it does not feel like fall without seeing it at least once in the month of October.
Wirt and Greg have become a part of the collective tradition for many, still finding power in the experience even as adults and seeking it out again. Their journey is one that speaks to people with its funny and sensitive writing, capturing such a specific moment in childhood where you realize that you are finite. There is a mournfulness within Over the Garden Wall for the things you cannot bring back, but there is hope for what lies ahead.
It is truly a modern fairytale and if it even sounds remotely interesting to you, seek it out this October. Find a home in The Unknown.
You can rent it now on Amazon Prime or find it on Hulu.