Review for Over The Garden Wall
Towards the end of last year, Manga Entertainment unleashed a whole bunch of English language animations, most of them sourced from the Cartoon Network. Shows like Bojack Horseman, Adventure Time, Samurai Jack, and Steven Universe. To be honest, the sheer volume of the stuff was a little overwhelming, and I’ve been slowly working my way through the pile, in between anime check discs over the last 6 months or so. Alas, it seems that Manga’s flirtation with the CN material was short lived, and Steven Universe’s second season release got cancelled. A lot of these shows will be left in limbo. Thankfully, this Over the Garden Wall release is complete in and of itself, the whole thing in ten short episodes. That’s no reason to discount it, as it’s attracted some serious Hollywood talent to its voice cast.
Brothers Wirt and Gregory are lost in the Unknown, a dank, eerie forest where odd things happen. With Gregory’s pet frog of indeterminate name, and the help of a sassy bluebird named Beatrice, they look for a way home, ever wary of running into The Beast.
1. The Old Grist Mill
2. Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee
3. Schooltown Follies
4. Songs of the Dark Lantern
5. Mad Love
6. Lullaby in Frogland
7. The Ringing of the Bell
8. Babes in the Wood
9. Into the Unknown
10. The Unknown
Over the Garden Wall gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and it’s not without issues. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent, if drawing from a limited, autumnal palette, and the animation is smooth. The character designs are simplistic if distinctive, while the world design is artistically inspired and lush. The characters have a European animation influence, but can at times lapse into Disney-esque, Silly Symphony whimsy. This would all look great, were it not for the digital banding, which is prevalent to such a degree that it’s a distraction.
The show gets a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English track with optional HOH English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, and the stereo sound design brings the show’s oft creepy atmosphere across well. The show relies heavily on music as well, and that is recreated brilliantly on the soundtrack. This show is also worth noting for its stellar voice cast.
The disc presents its content with an animated menu screen.
Remember to look in the setup menu listing, as that is where you’ll find the audio commentary from creator Patrick McHale and art director Nick Cross.
You’ll also find an isolated score here, labelled as the Composer’s Mix.
In the extras menu you’ll find Behind Over The Garden Wall, which is a making of featurette with interviews with the cast and crew. This lasts 8:20.
The Original Pilot: Tome of the Unknown lasts 8:58, and is in essence another episode, albeit one outside the continuity of the main series, with a couple of differences in cast. This lasts 8:58.
The Alternate Title Cards lasts 0:46.
Deleted Animatics lasts 3:41.
Finally there are Madman Entertainment trailers for Regular Show – Mordecai Pack, Adventure Time Season 5 Part 1, and Steven Universe Arcade Mania.
This is the best thing with the Cartoon Network logo attached I have seen (Bojack Horseman is Netflix). Over the Garden Wall is a dark fairy tale which is decidedly effective, and after a somewhat slow start in the first couple of episodes, is utterly compelling. You might be wondering if it’s redundant, given the Adventure Time series, also a modern reimagining of fairy tale tropes, but if Adventure Time is a daytime soap opera, Over the Garden Wall is Shakespearean theatre.
Visually and aurally it is just breathtaking. The sepia colours, the credit captions, the framing and the composition, coupled with the archaic music makes it all feel like a silent movie. If you watch the isolated score with the dialogue taken out, it works just as well. But then it is a silent movie with dialogue, incongruously contemporary dialogue, but dialogue which works in counterpoint to the show’s art style, and suits the modern characterisations, and the issues the characters face.
Over the Garden Wall is like a gestalt of fairy tales. Wirt is a nervous teenager with low self esteem, and with his playful little brother Greg (and his pet frog), they are lost in the woods, with no way of returning home. Wirt wears a pointed hat and a cloak, while Greg has a teakettle on his head, and together they’re looking for the way out. But this is a forest full of darkness and magic. They meet a woodsman early on, an ominous figure who tries to help them, warning them of The Beast in the woods, but he’s too creepy for them to trust; instead they heed the words of Beatrice, a talking bluebird who knows of someone who can help them.
That’s the whole series, ten episodes of these characters trying to find the way out. But each episode is a little fairy tale in its own right. There’s a town full of pumpkin people, a schoolhouse suffering from a lack of resources, a tavern where people are identified by what they do, an old man in love with a ghost, a frog party, and the young woman who lives with her scary aunt. These are all fun, entertaining and wonderfully animated stories, which all add to the big picture. In the end, we come back to the main story, the woodsman and The Beast, and the truth of how Wirt and Greg came to be lost.
It’s a rich and memorable voice cast that makes Over the Garden Wall so special, the kind of actors you might expect signing up for a prestige Ghibli film, with names like Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, Melanie Lynskey, John Cleese, Bebe Neuwirth, and Tim Curry recognisable. The episodes are arranged like chapters in a book, the opening captions framed like a chapter heading, while the end credits flit by so fleetingly that they hardly register. While that does mean the use of freeze frame if you want to read them, it also means that you can appreciate this show as one, two-hour movie, although it works almost as well episodically.
I really enjoyed Over the Garden Wall, it’s a rich and nostalgic story with a couple of modern twists. It’s a shame that the visual transfer couldn’t have been better, but that’s no reason not to watch this show. Very much recommended.