Updated: Nov 27, 2022
Shadowy Edelwood trees conceal the secrets of cursed dwellers, mysterious woodsmen, singing frogs and a lurking beast in this autumn miniseries by Patrick McHale, “Over the Garden Wall.” Our tale opens with two half-brothers, the pointy-headed elder Wirt, played by Elijah Wood and the naive younger sibling Gregory, played by Collin Dean. They wander aimlessly in the mystical forest under a bright quarter-moon, searching desperately for the path home. Their journey however, only pulls them further from familiarity and plunges them into a whimsical realm of moody candlelight and haunting landscapes.
As the older brother, Wirt, takes charge in leading the duo through the forest, he also fails to possess the confidence needed to protect his brother from harm. Wirt is only a teenager, still in his awkward adolescent phase, so it’s understandable why he struggles to make the right choices so often. Not only that, but he frequently blames their troubles on Greg, lacking awareness of his own immaturity. Gregory is a ray of light in the moody wilderness. He practically makes up for the confidence lacking in Wirt. Being only a child, Greg has a numbness to the dangers that pursue them, especially the diabolical beast who hungers for them at every turn. Through every dire situation, Gregory never fails to be playful and comedic, brightening up every scene.
What is a mystical forest without at least one talking animal? The creature in question here is Beatrice, the vocal bluebird who turns the duo into a trio. Beatrice however, is not just any normal bluebird. She too is afflicted by the woods, cursed to be a bird for eternity. Still, they are not all forsaken, for on the other side of the woods lives a witch named Adelaide who can turn her human again and send the boys back home. What follows is a perilous autumn quest to find Adelaide and ultimately, have their normality back.
“Over the Garden Wall” is almost an anthology of sorts, with each eleven-minute episode recording a new adventure along the way to Adelaide’s cottage. Each chapter follows the protagonists to a new grove, introducing unique townspeople, sometimes quirky and hospitable and other times wicked and deceiving. Being an animated series, the artwork is incredibly stimulating to the senses. A palette of burnt umbers and muddy sages transition each woodland village from a withering fall into the first chill of winter.
Music is also an important element in setting the tone for each episode. It’s not uncommon for a character to break into a tune mid-scene, and even ambient sounds offer a cozy feeling to the show. “Over the Garden Wall” currently has a soundtrack released on Spotify which I strongly recommend when getting into the fall season. The soundtrack is composed of spooky soundscapes, village ditties and cottage melodies.
Visual appeal to the series greatly contributed to its ability to capture the autumn season from so many angles. Scary aspects never overpower heartwarming elements. Some episodes choose to include the ghouls and skeletons whose souls cling to the month of October, while others refrain from creeps and melt like candle wax into the cozy autumn associated with November.
“Over the Garden Wall” presents itself as both an innocent adventure through the unknown and an even greater journey through one’s self. Finding the path home is never the greatest obstacle in play, nor is the cunning beast that wishes to destroy the children. Greater than that is the obstacle of maturity and growth that Wirt, Greg and Beatrice consistently face. They all make mistakes. They trust the wrong people, follow the wrong path, arrive at the wrong locations and fail to see the true danger right in front of them. But it’s from these experiences that they’re able to conjure the bravery and perseverance that keep them going over the treetops and mountains, over the blackened ravines and hopefully one day over that garden wall again.
“Over the Garden Wall” is currently streaming on HBO Max. It consists of ten episodes, each eleven minutes. Go give it a watch.