Monday, June 8, 2015

Over The Garden Wall Review

Spirited Away Through the Elderwood

There are times when you experience a piece of work, be it art, music, books, or films, where you can tell it was a passion project. There's no fluff. Nothing about the piece wants to cater to the audience. The creator had a vision, they sought out like minded individuals to help create their vision and gave their vision life for the world to see. It is a piece where every frame, every line of dialogue and every action has a purpose. It is pure. "Over The Garden Wall" is such a piece.

This ten episode mini series is the story of two stepbrothers, Wirt and Greg, who have become lost on their journey home through the woods. But these are no ordinary woods. These woods which the locals have named, The Unknown, are filled with enchanted creatures and mysterious travelers who can not and should not be trusted. The Unknown is a dark place with a great evil lurking within its shadows. An evil known as The Beast. The Beast is known to for devouring the children who become lost in The Unknown, children like Wirt and Greg.

While a good chunk of the show is positive and is filled with bright colorful characters who will sing and dance in the cornfields, there's always a lurking shadow. At any moment, the old man who welcomes you into his home might loose his mind and think you're the spirit of a long dead lover. There is little in these woods that can be trusted, and that sense of unease is what makes the show special. Danger comes in many forms and all directions, meaning this show does a brilliant job at not only misdirection, but suspense at what's around the riverbed.

An amazing aspect of this show is just how terrifying it can be in moments. The Beast alone is a pretty scary character. This long black figure with white glowing eyes. His form ever changing and ever moving. He whispers in the ears of locals in this deep booming voice about how his servants, "Must keep the lantern oiled." The Beast is everywhere and watches every step you take and waits to strike when you've lost all hope. This character is the definition of a nightmare and it might be a bit much for younger audiences.

As for our young travelers, Wirt and Greg are not fantasy heroes in some Tolken epic. They're children. They carry no weapons, no maps, and they are unable to produce magic spells. Their only means of defense are their intelligence and whatever item is within their reach. And it also doesn't help that Greg is a five year old who trust everyone he meets. Wirt, a teenager, is put into the position of having to protect his stepbrother on this journey they are woefully unprepared for and to make matters worse, Wirt is a bit of a coward.

Greg, as mentioned previously, is a very young trusting soul in a world that wants to exploit his innocence. He sings and dances his way through life without ever knowing what's lurking in the shadows. Even when directly confronted by a few of these dark creatures, he doesn't grasp the concept of danger. Like most kids his age, Greg doesn't have an off button and his hyperactivity leads to possibly dangerous decisions in these woods. He draws strength from his brother, because he knows Wirt will get them home and will protect him.

What makes this brotherly relationship interesting is Wirt doesn't feel the same way about his stepbrother. From the few times they reference what's going on in their lives back home, Wirt's mother has only just recently remarried to another man who had Greg from a previous marriage and Wirt still hasn't accepted both his stepdad or his stepbrother as members of his family. He's a young teen who wants to work up the courage to talk to girls and experience High School life, but he's been suddenly been thrown into the role of an older brother and he doesn't know what to do.

Plus all of these problems magnify when they get lost. There are moments where Wirt doesn't know how to handle Greg and sees him as an annoyance. Wirt even looses his temper at Greg from time to time and you're given the impression he'd prefer to just leave Greg behind and head home without him. Although Greg, who's experiencing all of these events through the happy-go-luck delusion of childhood, doesn't see the wall Wirt is building around them. 

There are plenty of other characters in this series and all of them are given this amazing level of attention to detail.

"Over The Garden Wall" is a must see. It's a fun horror story for kids that's actually scary without it being overwhelming. The characters are beautifully rich in deep detail and balance each other perfectly. There hasn't been an American Animated series like this in a very long time. Every moment in this ten episode series feel intentional and every frame feels as though it was crafted with masterful skill and the story is given a satisfying conclusion. I can not recommend watching this series enough.

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