Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Over the Garden Wall

[WARNING: This post may contain mild spoilers about the Over the Garden Wall mini-series. If you have not seen Over the Garden Wall, proceed with caution. Don't worry, I don't reveal anything MAJOR major]
Over the Garden Wall. This cartoon mini-series was first introduced to me on the December of 2014 by a friend who was in Malaysia for Christmas. Myself, my siblings, and another friend determinedly introduced her to Gravity Falls. After watching the first episode, Mabel's Guide to Life, Dipper's Guide to the Unexplained, and the Fixin' it with Soos shorts, she was certainly interested. She told me that Gravity Falls reminded her of a ten episode mini-series she had watched recently called Over the Garden Wall. She recommended it to me, before leaving to go back to America.
I considered checking the series out, but was constantly caught in busy-ness and frequent disinterest. It wasn't until a week or so ago, when I was caught in a phase of boredom, that I decided to check it out. I most certainly did not regret it.

Over the Garden Wall is a ten chapter mini-series created for Cartoon Network by Patrick McHale (who worked on the infamous Adventure Time cartoon series and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack cartoon series). The series revolves around two brothers, Wirt and Gregory, who find themselves lost in a mysterious forest known simply as 'the Unknown'. With an irritable bluebird named Beatrice as their guide, and Greg's nameless pet frog, the brothers are trying to find their way back home.
Throughout their quest to get home, they encounter several strange and colorful characters, whether they be supernatural or just plain strange. The brothers constantly encounter an old Woodsman, who attempts to warn them of an unseen creature known only as 'the Beast', a creature which stalks the boys throughout the series.

The series is charming in more ways than one. The animation is charmingly simplistic in the character designs, and yet the backgrounds are beautifully and carefully detailed. This combinations delivers a lovely spectacle of characters that contrast wonderfully against the artistic surroundings.
The music score is excellent, sometimes haunting, and quite frankly a joy to listen to. Oh, and there are musical numbers! I'm not sure how to describe them, but the song types range from operatic to classic folk song. The first episode begins with a song called Into the Unknown, which is sung to a slow piano peice. It really sets the mysterious and folk tale type mood of the series.
Each episode has its own unique vibe, generally heavy with mystery or foreboding. There are plenty of red herrings making you think one thing, but then something happens that makes you go 'oooooooh… crap.' Overall, while the series is a sort of supernatural mystery type genre, I wouldn't say that the series is scary. It's creepy, and most of the creepiness comes from yours and the characters assumptions regarding the situations. Altogether whole series has an original Grimm's Fairytales, Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, American folktales type sensation.
It has an excellent overarching story, while having some pretty good subplots within each chapter. The way the series is structured is close to genius. The main characters are fantastically written, being characters that you come to love as they develop and grow. (Even sarcastic and irritable Beatrice). The ending, I kid you not, had me crying.

"Curse you, lady! Curse you! You'll die someday, and I'll laugh! Laugh! Ha ha ha ha!"
Beatrice is the snappy, sarcastic voice of reason, a bluebird with a poor outlook on the world, viewing it as a boring and miserable place (though this view may or may not have simply been the result of poor choices and a bad mood). Beatrice initially comes off as impatient, cynical, and unashamedly tactless. Which she is. Despite all this, its later revealed that Beatrice has plenty of regrets in her life, some of which she is trying to fix. As time goes on and Beatrice spends more time with Wirt and Greg, she begins to grow attached to them. Her annoyance at Greg becomes a sort of older sister protectiveness and fondness. Her dismissive attitude towards Wirt becomes encouragement. Beatrice is a character you become rather fond of, despite, and maybe even because of, her quick cynicism. She sometimes voices aggravations that I think most people probably agree with, and sometimes wish to voice themselves. Beatrice is a character that grows out of her angsty and grim worldview. After Wirt, Beatrice is, in my opinion, one of the best developed characters in the series.

"Did you know that dinosaurs had big ears, but everyone forgot cause dinosaur ears don't have bones?"
Gregory, more often referred to as Greg, is pretty much your typical little kid. He's optimistic, sometimes naïve, trusting, and has a profound faith in his older brother. Greg is often seen with his pet frog, who's name changes with each episode (Kitty, Dr. Cucumber, George Washington etc). Unlike Wirt, Greg doesn't seem too worried about the dangers that they face in the Unknown, either because he is confident that Wirt has a plan, or because he doesn't always fully comprehend the danger he and Wirt are in. Gregory doesn't seem to always understand the situations that they get in to, but he seems to know enough to have an instant plan in mind. Greg's childishness is a source of aggravation for Wirt, and more often than not can get the boys into trouble. On the other hand, Greg's imaginative 'think outside the box' type mind often helps them out of trouble. Greg's trust in Wirt goes to a far degree, trusting that Wirt always has a plan to get them home, and accepting Wirt's aggravated accusations as they come. Greg doesn't really develop as a character. He is still a child, and though he grows up to some degree, it makes one happy to see him retain his childishness and innocence despite the dangers that he and Wirt encounter. It would be depressing if Greg grew up too fast.
I found Greg to be a really good child character. He acts like how one would expect a little kid to act. His randomness, occasional foolishness, wild imagination, absolute trust, it all makes him a pretty genuine character. It helps that he is voiced by a child voice actor. Collin Dean did a superb job on what I assume was his first role in voice acting. Having an actual child voice a child adds weight to the fact that Greg is just a kid. The way Greg interacts with Wirt is rather genuine, with Wirt being annoyed by is antics, and Greg not really paying any mind to his older brother's aggravation. Overall, I never found Greg to be an annoying character, despite me seriously relating to Wirt's irritation.

"Do you think it's some kind of deranged lunatic with an axe waiting out there in the darkness for innocent victims?"
In contrast with Greg's optimism and blissfully ignorant response to danger, Wirt is a (slightly) dramatic pessimist who starts off (generally) reacting to danger as a survivalist. Wirt is kind of self-absorbed, not always paying mind to his younger brother and often blaming Greg for their problems. And out of the three main characters in the series, Wirt is probably my favorite. Wirt is a typical insecure teenager whose impending adulthood is obviously weighing on him. You can see him trying to be responsible and make the right decisions, and though he starts off indecisive and unconfident when trying to so this, there is a point where Wirt has clearly made up his mind to actually be a responsible older brother and makes his own decisive decision. Like Greg, Wirt is capable of making good insta-decisions in the face of impending danger (though he never actually has a plan in mind, despite what Greg thinks) and often takes the situations as they come, no matter how strange (albeit, with more wariness and foreboding than Greg). Oftentimes Wirt will deliver a dramatic and poetic monologue concerning their situation, which comes off as rather ridiculous and awkward at first because it's kind of unexpected. Later it's revealed that poetry is actually one of Wirt's secret passions, and to be frank, he's good at it.
Wirt's relationship with Gregory is probably one of my most favorite brother relationships of all time because it's unlike most brother relationships I've seen in media (at least from what I've seen). Greg obviously has no problem with having Wirt as an older brother, being supportive and confident in him. On the other hand, Wirt starts off clearly not caring about Greg as much as an older brother would be expected to be. He keeps very poor tabs on Greg, and generally has him second on his mind in the face of danger. There are a few times when Wirt acts more responsible (like when he took an axe from Greg in the first episode, saying that he was too young to be having it). But overall, at least in the first four or so episodes, Wirt blames Greg for their troubles and is obviously annoyed with him most of the time. As the series goes on, however, Wirt's aggravation with Greg becomes less prominent. He's less annoyed with Greg's quirky randomness, just rolling with it or even participating in it. And, of course, Wirt becomes a way more responsible older brother. Greg's life comes first and foremost, and Wirt altogether stops and apologizes for blaming Greg for everything.
Arguably, the Over the Garden Wall series focuses most on Wirt and his development as a character. As a teenager, Wirt is caught in a spot where he's not quite sure what or how he's supposed to be like. He has his own ideas on what he's supposed to be like, but he's not at all confident about being himself, or even being what he thinks 'himself' is supposed to be like. As the series progresses, we can see Wirt subtly changing in character. More self confidence, more decisiveness, and more willing to stand up for himself, He recognizes his character flaws (which he was often unwilling to do), and accepts his character traits. And, perhaps most importantly, Wirt comes to terms with his role and responsibilities as a big brother.
I'm actually impressed with how this series managed to surprise me with an irresponsible older brother. As the oldest out of four kids, I relate to Wirt and understand why he does what he does. That doesn't stop me from being disappointed with him at times, not like that's bad! It just means that Patrick McHale has created a very real character, which is absolutely tremendous. And the way this character develops from an insecure "pushover" to a strong big brother… Wirt is a truly well written character. Also, he's voiced by Elijah Wood.

"Welcome to the Unknown, boys. You're more lost than you realize."
I can't say too much about the Woodsman without giving stuff away. He is a short lived guide of the boys, simply giving them hopeful directions and foreboding advice regarding the Unkown. The Woodsman is an excellent character, with plenty of mystery behind him. Also, he's voiced by Christopher Lloyd.
GREAT SCOTT! I did not see that coming.

"There is only me. There is only my way. There is only the forest, and there is only surrender."
The Beast is a villain we know very, very little about. As far as one can tell, he is like any other creepy fairy tale villain who has it out for children or something. But the twist at the end of the series… gosh. By the by, he's a very good opera singer.

Overall, I must say that the Over the Garden Wall series is probably one of the best cartoons I have ever seen.
The music and artstyle is beatiful and engaging.
The stories are intense and driving.
And it's got characters that are just plain endearing. I'm just impressed that Cartoon frigging Network aired something like THIS. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves cartoons, mystery, Grimm's fairytales, and/or just wants a nostalgic childhood experience (reading Hansel and Gretel type thing). Now, get ready. I'm gonna be reviewing each chapter of Over the Garden Wall in turn. Seriously, if you have not watched the series, PLEASE do so before reading my upcoming reviews. It has a wonderful story that you really have to experience yourself.
And that's a rock fact!

[Check out this adorable fanart of Wirt and Gregory by miyuli on Tumblr]

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