Led-through the mist,
By the milk-light of moon
All that was lost is revealed…
– “Into the Unknown,” Over the Garden Wall
Created by Patrick McHale, reviewed by me.
Hey everyone, this week we’re delving into the Unknown with Over the Garden Wall, a 10 episode mini-series created by Patrick McHale. I’m really excited about this one; I’ve been a fan of this gem for a minute now, and I really enjoyed The Panda Tooth’s recent Over the Garden Wall piano medley, a wonderful arrangement showcasing some of the story’s most enchanting melodies, commemorative of the series’ third year anniversary. Although, this does beg the question: why review it now… well, I’m already using the word review generously here, and I think these forums mostly boil down to one-sided banter and light researching on my part. It’s kind of like live-streaming someone write their term paper the night before it’s due. Exciting.
So, yeah, the series is pretty good. I’d wager it’s better than actually getting ~ Lost in the Woods ~ especially if it’s autumn/winter time like it is in the series, because then you’d probably die. I know in the show you just sort of turn into a tree if you fall ill or give up, but in Real Life Land™, you’d die. Anyway, yeah, to round out that comparison, this series is probably worse than having Jack Jones sing you off whenever you exit a scene in your life. That would be pretty neat. Not to get ahead of myself, as I will be discussing OTGW’s soundtrack shortly, but this is probably some of Jack Jone’s best work. I say after my 5-min Itunes adventure, but I mean, I love his performance in the show as both narrator and frog, yet, it’s hard to divorce him from the image of the man who sang “Wives and Lovers,” a charming big-band classic that fixes gender roles tighter than a two ton cement mixer.
Let’s talk origin stories, DC. It all started with my laddie Patty’s pilot-y-ish episode, Tome of the Unknown, which you can watch here. A quick word of warning though: the voice of Beatrice is different in the pilot, and you might think that it’s all good and groovy, but if you’ve already seen the show, it’ll bother you. It’ll bother you so much. It’s like a knowing there’s a spider in your room while you’re trying to sleep. It’s like putting the toilet roll on the wrong way. It’s like the English dub of Alphonse in Full Metal Brotherhood. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.
The cast is a good time, everything from a Python to a Hobbit, which sounds like a food chain, and in the acting world probably is when you consider that John Cleese is the Python and Elijah Wood is the hobbit. The story follows two half-brothers, Wirt and Gregory, voiced by Wood and Collin Dean respectively, as they travel through the fairy-tale forest of The Unknown with the help of their guide, Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) the blue bird. In this mysterious wood, where McHale-storm presents us with “little pockets of stories,” we encounter enchanting characters such as the witch, Adelaide of the Pastor (Cleese), and her Studio Ghibli-esque sister, Auntie Whispers (Tim Curry). There’s the Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd, aka Doc from Back to the Future) who must chop down Edelwood trees to fuel his ghostly lantern, the silky smooth baritone of Jason Funderburger the Frog (Jack Jones), and the omnipresent Beast. Each episode is presented as a 10-11 minute self-contained adventure, taking you to a new section of the forest every time, whether that be on a Ferry Boat with frogs in suits, or battling against the North Wind in Cloud City, or kicking back in a bazillionaire tea mogul’s mansion with John Cleese.
Let’s talk about the soundtrack: it’s an absolute trip. Inspired by the American folk music tradition and featuring voices like Jack Jones, C.W. Stoneking (who you’ve probably never heard of but he plays the sad pumpkin and sings like a beautiful, rugged, country angel), and Janet Klein (who you’ve probably also never heard of, but her she’s got a very particular saloon groove that matches this very particular series). All the music was written by the Blasting Company, and if you’re looking for some quick and dirty peeks at these tracks, check out this melodious sample, Patient is the Night, or this sweet, sweet cover of Can’t You See I’m Lonely. If these songs don’t make you want wander off and get lost in the woods, I don’t know what will. But don’t do it. Like I said, you’ll probably die. Instead, you can read my short story, Lost in the Woods, and run a much lower risk of dying while exploring it! No guarantees, though, I assume no legal responsibility for those who happen to die while reading my stories.
If you wanna delve even further into the Unknown, check out the comic series written by McHale and illustrated by Jim Campbell. It fills in some of the spaces in between the episodes and gives you a little more time to get lost with these intrepid (half) brothers. If you’re still not convinced of how intriguing a ride this mini-series can be, check out this young man’s analysis of the series’ inspirations right here; his very thorough research helped me quite a bit in my review-making process.
All in all, I give the mini-series nine snowflakes, my main critique being that there are parts of the narrative that feel rushed, and being beholden to the 10-11 minute formula it’s easy to see how that could be the case. Still, there are definitely some episodes that feel perfectly paced such as one of my personal favorites, “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee.” But still, every once in awhile you’ll feel a conversation seemingly cut short or a transition rushed.
Ultimately, this is an iconic series that has an amazing soundtrack and is short enough to watch in one sitting. I mean… Stranger Things is debatably short enough to watch in one sitting if you’re trying to make that sit last a full day, but Over the Garden Wall runs a little over two hours total, so it’s a pretty moderate sitting. My friend told me this is the series he watches whenever he’s sick, so I think it’s safe to say it’s got some homeopathic properties to it as well.
Hope you enjoyed my first animated series review, I’m hoping to do more like it in the future. If you liked this review, feel free to digitally like it, share it, print it out, make a hat out of it and wear my review on your head, do whatever your little heart fancies until next week. Bye.