31 Days of Hell: Over the Garden Wall is a Dark and Whimsical Halloween Adventure

Cartoon Network has always been uniquely able to bring me into a new world of whimsy and fantasy, and they do not fall short in their miniseries Over the Garden Wall. Created by Katie Krenz, who has developed numerous shows for Cartoon Network over the years including Steven Universe, and Patrick McHale, a writer for Adventure Time and Flapjack, this miniseries is a gorgeous adventure in growing up and coming to terms with the world. Across the 10 episodes, at 11 minutes each this is a quick watch that will leave you breathless.

Wirt (Elijah Wood) and his brother Greg (Collin Dean) are travelling through The Unknown, a deep and dense forest trying to find their way home. The Unknown is a dangerous place, stalked by a beast (Samuel Ramey) who searches for the souls of lost children to add to his forest. The Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) chops down these trees to make oil for his lantern, which he must keep lit at all costs. The darker aspects of the plot are mixed into the magical, whimsical and largely inconsequential subplots of the individual episodes. Lullaby in Frogland is perhaps the best example of this, where the gang travels on a boat piloted by frogs which sit around smoking bubble pipes, playing music and dancing. The gorgeous animation and the songs that run throughout the series further serve to set the tone of the show as fun, but with morose underpinnings.

Image Courtesy of Cartoon Network

The show deals with themes of growing up, and accepting responsibility. Wirt is the elder child, but has a hard time taking responsibility for his brother. He is often unable to take decisive action when it matters most, and his uncertainty in his own abilities leads them into more trouble than anything else. Beatrice the bird’s (Melanie Lynskey) arc follows a similar path, as she is running from something as well. The Unknown can serve as a metaphor for life that the characters must navigate, and find solutions to their problems.

Creativity in these solutions is also crucial to survival in the Unknown. For example, the Beast tells the Woodsman that keeping the lantern lit is the only way, the only thing he can do. Wirt and Greg continue to march through the woods because that is the only thing they can do. The message becomes in order to navigate the complexities and the unknowns in life, you have to be able to find alternative solutions to your problems.

This show is also about maintaining joy in the face of the unknown. Once a traveler succumbs to despair the woods claims them. Only by finding or creating some meaning or purpose in their journey are the characters able to survive.

As this is a very dense show, containing many twists and turns there is too much to mention in this review without giving away the twists and turns of the story that you should experience yourself. Watch this series, rewatch it, and then do some digging online. There are many videos and articles out there explaining the hidden moments and connections that are littered throughout the miniseries. The mysteries are there for you to discover during these 31 days of hell.

-Patrick Bernas