Cartoons these days are phenomenal. Everything from The Legend of Korra to Adventure Time to How to Train Your Dragon brings me back again and again to animation. It’s a rare place in media where being bizarre and taking risks is encouraged and profitable. I don’t think there will be a time in my life where I stop watching cartoons.
Yesterday I watched Over the Garden Wall (2014), which was released on Cartoon Network as a miniseries of 10, 10 minute shorts. It’s a brief and charming chronicle of two half-brothers navigating a strange wilderness on their quest to get home.
The animation itself is beautiful. The characters themselves are simple, but the world around them is rich in detail, with special attention dedicated to light. The subtlety of The Beast, the shadowed evil force hunting the brothers, is really great. There is no reveal of the true face of this creature, as one might expect. Even when faced directly with The Beast, it’s hard to tell he’s there at all.
The cast is star studded as well. Wirt, the older brother, is voiced by Elijah Wood. His younger brother Greg is voiced by a young boy named Collin Dean, who does spectacularly in his hyper-optimistic, indefatigable role. Other voices include Christopher Lloyd, Melanie Lynskey, John Cleese and Tim Curry.
One of the major appeals to this cartoon is it’s music. The Beast sings a haunting opera in the woods, Greg’s frog has a moment of Americana bandstand performing, and just about everyone they meet seems to have a song waiting to burst out of them. All the music and singing has a wonderful old-timey quality and none of the aggrandized Disney style music that now seems to be permanent if unwelcome fixture in cartoons – like a second head sewed onto your neck while you slept.
For all it’s lovely qualities, I wish this had run for 10 full episodes, and not at the run time which it had. All the quirks and oddities of this world were just starting to feel substantial when it ended. I would have loved to spend more time with bassoon-loving frogs, possessed maidens, raccoons in trousers and kleptomaniac horses, befriending bewitched blue birds and feeling the ever lurking presence of the malicious Beast. Given more time, creator Patrick McHale could have explored the darker elements of this world and given us something to be really excited about. As it is, I feel like I got my sundae without any fudge.
I’ll look for the next thing McHale puts out, as he’s already proven he has a great mind for strange places and outlandish scenarios. In spite of the flaws of OtGW, it’s well worth watching, especially if you’ve got a kiddo you’re looking to plug them into the media machine for a couple hours. It’s not mindless, it’s not annoying and it will probably make them a better person.