“Into the Unknown:” Animated Autumnal Dreams

Sirianna Blanck, Editor-in-chief

*This is a spoiler-free review.*

“Over the Garden Wall” is a short, animated mini-series that aired in November of 2014 on Cartoon Network, and follows brothers Wirt and Greg through their adventures in the Unknown, an autumnal world of talking animals, magical beings, and beasts ready to turn the brothers into puppets or meals. It was created by Patrick McHale and pitched in 2006 as a three-season show. McHale is best known for his work on “Adventure Time”. In 2013, he created “Tome of the Unknown,” which functioned as both a short film and pilot for the series, and after finding success at many film festivals, Cartoon Network picked up the pilot for a miniseries.

New England postcards (Postcards courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

I watched the first two episodes last Halloween, and loved it, but put it on the back burner until one long, college visit car ride this October. Binging the less-than-two-hour-long show on a drive through the orange and red farmlands of Virginia truly ushered in my personal Halloween season. According to McHale, one inspiration for the setting was old New England postcards. Through this animated medium, he’s able to perfectly capture this image of the season that perfectly works for its heartwarming episodes, but also its unsettling villains and darker themes.

Autumnal postcard (Postcards courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

“Over the Garden Wall” follows Wirt and Greg. Wirt is our typical insecure teenager. He plays the clarinet, enjoys poetry, is too afraid to tell his crush how he feels, and likes to avoid any kind of uncertainty. Greg is the perfect wacky little brother. Everything he says just makes you want to laugh or smile. He is the opposite of Wirt, sure of all his actions, even when others show absolutely no understanding of him. This duo is usually accompanied by Beatrice, a bluebird looking to undo a curse upon her family.

Our main characters (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

Most of the show’s plots are encompassed in only one of its episodes, but the care put into every single backstory, character design, and motivation is immaculate. So many characters could have entire shows about them but are kept inside ten minutes of screen time, leaving lots up to the audience’s own imagination and interpretation.

The show’s wide variety of inspirational sources are easily seen through the show’s character designs as well. I’m no fashion expert but one of my favorite YouTubers and historical fashion experts, Mina Le, created this breakdown of the costumes, covering (almost) all of Over the Garden Wall’s historical clothing references, which range from European peasants to colonial America. I don’t want to repeat any of her thoughts or spoil any of the show, but the wide variety of settings and historical clothing references seen in the show add so much more than if the show had contained itself to one time period or place. It allows each character and plot to have deeper meanings. The care put into simply the character’s head wear has meaning in this thousand-reference show.

Over the Garden Wall fan art (Created by Mr-Quacker’s Artistry)

“If this show were a record, it would be played on a phonograph,” said Elijah Wood in an interview, Wirt’s voice actor in the series. The music of “Over the Garden Wall” is inspired by pre-1950s folk and jazz. It’s the perfect mixture of silly, cozy, and creepy. From Greg’s “Potatoes and Molasses” tune, inspired by having nothing to eat in a one room schoolhouse and subsequently stuck in my head for over two days, to the haunting “The Beast is Out There,” sure to remind you of the impending doom that slowly creeps over the entire series, the music perfectly mirrors the show’s tone. One moment the music feels like getting lost in a corn maze with your friends, sipping hot apple cider, and the next feels like being chased through a corn maze with no exit in sight.

Like I said earlier, the show is packed full of references and has so many plots and backstories packed into its roughly 100 minute run, that you can find countless video essays and fan discussions about the show. This fanbase is honestly the reason I’m writing this article seven years after the show came out. The fanbase is only so dedicated because of the care and artistry put into every level of the mini-series. From its writing to character design to animation to soundtrack, “Over the Garden Wall” is one of the best pieces of media you can watch this fall.