|Studio||Cartoon Network Studios|
|Original run||2013 (Tome of the Unknown), 2014|
|Number of episodes||10|
|Purchase DVD Set||Click here to purchase from Amazon.|
I have to admit, I had fallen out of Cartoon Network for some time now. And who can blame me? The TV channel was just not the same when I was a kid. No more stuff like Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ed, Edd n Eddy, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Teen Titans…
No, we got shit like terrible live action shows, Uncle Grandpa, The Problem Solverz, Almost Naked Animals, Teen Titans Go!, The Powerpuff Girls reboot, Johnny Test…
I mean, fuck. What the hell happened here! The stories got worse. The animation got worse. The network executive decisions got worse. EVERYTHING GOT WORSE! Did CN staff forget what made them successful in the first place? You know, putting out good shows, building up cult followings and worry about merchandising later?
I mean, it’s fine if you like these shows but I couldn’t stand this “lol random xD” humor that seems to spread across these shows like a disease. So for a while, I gave up on the channel.
Yeah, Cartoon Network certainly hit a rough period and we could make the argument that it’s still happening at this point, especially when it comes to reboots. I don’t even have cable television anymore, so my news about cartoons are naturally through the Internet. So of course, I missed out on some good series over the past few years.
Case in point, a miniseries called Over the Garden Wall, brought to you by Patrick McHale—who was known for his work in The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time.
Tome of the Unknown
The series started life as a 9-minute pilot called Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody, which aired in 2013. The story is about two young boys and a talking bluebird wandering in a mysterious forest called the Unknown, in search of a book called the Tome of the Unknown. On their latest hijinks, they meet a banjo-playing man made from vegetables called John Crops. In exchange for transportation, our heroes agreed to help John get acquainted with the other vegetable people in the nearest town.
What’s interesting is that the art style of the characters is simplistic compared to the backgrounds, which are more detailed and resembled grisaille paintings—basically, paintings that only used different shades of gray to form an image. Furthermore, the wild animals were drawn in a more realistic style. Strangely enough, these art styles blend well, giving a charming and welcoming appearance while still maintaining a sense of danger around the corner. Against a 19th-20th century American-inspired setting and classic jazz music, this is a very charming short.
So of course, CN was willing to greenlight this story as a feature-length movie. But since McHale felt the story would do better as an episodic series (and he had other life complications at the time), we ended up with the miniseries called Over the Garden Wall.
The Forgotten Tales of the Unknown
So, Over the Garden Wall features a new plot where two brothers are simply searching for a way back home and escape the forest called the Unknown. Wirt (voiced by Elijah Wood) is the pessimistic and serious elder brother, while Gregory is the optimistic but dimwitted younger brother. A female talking bluebird named Beatrice joins them later on, who functions as somewhat of a sassy sister figure and a voice of criticism.
And… let’s say this retelling took a turn into Grimm fairy tale territory.
Yeesh! You know, people, if I had seen this cartoon when I was younger, it would probably put me at unease for a little bit. But I would eventually grow to love it, just like how I came to love Courage the Cowardly Dog.
The boys encounter the enigmatic Woodsman (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), a frantic old man who is obsessed with keeping his lantern alight with the oil of Edelwood trees. He also possesses a deep fear of a creature simply known as the Beast.
The Beast is one cool antagonist in spite of his simplistic design. For the most part, he stays in the shadows and speaks in this calm, baritone voice. He stalks the two boys, intent on capturing them for a sinister purpose. And sometimes, he sings opera about chopping wood.
No, I’m serious. The voice actor, Samuel Ramey, is an opera singer. And he delivered one sinister performance as the Beast, adding an extra layer of cool with line reads like these.
No, there is only ME. There is only MY way. There is only the forest and there is only surrender.
The Beast’s design is inspired by the Devil himself, as shown by his humanoid appearance with antlers. And he is also not someone who takes action himself, but rather he manipulates others to work for him—even going out of his way to lie and deceive.
And his true form?
Much of Over the Garden Wall is a self-contained adventure for each episode, further exploring the setting of the Unknown and its bizarre residents. Carrying over the art design of Tome of the Unknown, the show puts a larger emphasis on contrasting light and shadows for an ominous effect. A perfect way to portray a world filled with the walking undead, evil spirits, anthropomorphic animals and other beings with strange customs, a forest full of darkness and a puppetmaster lurking in the shadows.
The soundtrack is a mix of jazz, piano pieces and opera (brought to you by the Beast). The voice actors did a good job in their roles, though I would have to give extra praise to Christopher Lloyd as the Woodsman and Samuel Ramey as the Beast.
Despite the show’s short run, Over the Garden Wall leaves a big impression on you towards the end. While it managed to work in macabre humor, existentialism, and the theme of loss in a kid’s show, it still managed to come across as a very charming series with an atmosphere that can be both heartwarming and even scary at times. It’s a perfect watch around the fall season.
The TV show had such a strong cult following that it also had a comic book series, similar to how Avatar: The Last Airbender did. With that said, I’ll conclude the review with a nice song. Enjoy!
Over the Garden Wall$9.99
- Likable and simple characters with some good voice talent behind them.
- A very cool villain who may be one of the most evil villains in CN originals.
- An interesting and charming setting that mixes both 19th-20th century historic and dark fantasy.
- A mix of art styles that give the show a look of a picturesque painting at times.
- Some well done musical pieces.
- This wouldn't exactly be a flaw, but... I wished it was a teeny-tiny bit longer.