Synopsis: Two brothers named Wirt and Greg end up getting lost in some mysterious woods called “The Unknown. Together with a talking bluebird named Beatrice, they search for a woman called Adele who can show them the way home while avoiding an evil entity known as “The Beast”
Over the Garden Wall is the first miniseries that Cartoon Network has ever done (well depending on how you count the IGPX shorts) and it’s a pretty interesting undertaking for them. They’ve been pretty risk averse the last few years so it was questionable how they’d handle such a thing and if it would go for something ambitious or merely serviceable. Thankfully the show has gone for the latter and in the process has turned into not only the first real miniseries they’ve ever done but also one of the best things they’ve ever done.
What stands out right away about the series is its massive homage to some of the classic cartoons of yesteryear. The artstyle feeds that aesthetic really well and it’s pretty breathtaking to behold as it gives everything a rustic old country feel that can be both beautiful and horrifying whenever the mood requires it. Everything from the creatures, to the music, and even to how the characters talk, gives off the vibe of a classic Disney film and it’s hard not to feel nostalgic when watching it.
Even a lot of the narrative style gives off this vibe, and it’s very reminiscent of old fairy tales. The story starts off in media res wth the brothers already lost with no idea how to get back home. This leads them to an encounter with a mysterious woodsman who offers to help them out while warning them of an evil beast that lurks the woods. After a slight falling out with him though, they instead end up in the care of a talking bluebird named Beatrice who offers to take them to see Adele, the Good Woman of the Woods who can show them the way home. Their journey through the Unknown brings them on several different adventures, some being creepy and some being charming with each feeding into the show’s colonial aesthetic.
Along the way Beatrice gets a bit closer to the two and reveals the exact reason why she’s a talking bluebird. It comes at a price though since she’s had her own agenda for most of the time, which leads to a pretty shocking betrayal when it appears she’s been playing them the whole time and the good woman of the woods turns out to be not so good after all. In the meantime the show also delves a bit into what’s going on in the background between the woodsman and the beast as well as why the two are connected.
This all plays into the show’s final act where it starts laying all it’s cards on the table. While the countryside aesthetic holds a lot for the series, at it’s core it’s really about the relationship between the two brothers, and it ties into things in a big way as things take a slight step back to look at how the brothers got there in the first place. While Wirt is never a downright jerk to his younger brother Greg, he does dismiss his optimism a lot and is quick to blame him when things go south. This combined with Wirt’s own lack of confidence, leads to him taking his brother for granted, and also helped to land them in the accident that got them there. However it’s only when Wirt decides to confront the beast in order to protect his brother that everything comes to light and everyone is able to get a happy ending with the show (thankfully) being ambiguous to whether or not the whole affair was dream and/or purgatory.
Cartoon Network’s first mini series has made for a pretty interesting tale, and a pretty ambitious project on their part. The show’s classic cartoon homage makes for some fun stuff, and it also manages to tell a fairly touching story as well. While the narrative isn’t completely flawless the overall aesthetic easily up for it and the ending is pretty sweet. This may be the first true mini series the network has done but it most certainly shouldn’t be the last.
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