Why Over the Garden Wall Is a Perfect Halloween Cartoon - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Why Over the Garden Wall Is a Perfect Halloween Cartoon

Defining what film or television series should connect to a holiday or season is tricky. Die Hard can be considered a Christmas film despite its violence and heavy storyline. The Nightmare Before Christmas can simultaneously represent two holidays at once. Many horror films are not directly about Halloween, yet they connect with the season because the tone and environment created capture essential elements of the season.

Over the Garden Wall speaks to the peculiar Halloween season, albeit in a more family-friendly environment. Patrick McHale’s (Adventure Time) Cartoon Network show centers around a pair of stepbrothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Gregory (Collin Dean), who try to escape The Unknown, a seemingly infinite woods, with the guidance of a cursed bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), all while Gregory tries to find a name for his frog (Jack Jones). The 10-episode miniseries came and went in fall 2014, but now has garnered a cult following particularly during the fall. McHale and his team deserve said reputation for creating a series with an aesthetic perfect to watch during the dark, haunting, and unique season that is Halloween.

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The series starts with a title sequence featuring Greg’s frog playing a haunting piano tune in the dark. The frog, voiced by veteran singer/actor Jones, sings a tune called “Into the Unknown” as images setting up different moments in the series flash by (the final lyrics sung are “How the gentle wind beckons to the leaves/As Autumn colors fall”). After singing, the frog introduces the mysterious Unknown, “where long-forgotten stories are revealed to those who travel through the wood.”

This sequence combines two central aspects of Over the Garden Wall that make it tailor-made for Halloween: the animation and the score. McHale and company’s animation – inspired by postcards McHale saw as a kid – plays perfectly into the fall mood. The leaves are a mix of different shades of orange, green, and yellow as they flow in the wind. The backgrounds are lush with detailed trees mixed with lush shadows, sometimes engulfing the characters. The woods also get greyer and darker as Wirt starts to lose hope in the second half of the series, matching the negative tone of the protagonist.

The evocative and art museum-worthy backgrounds set the mood, while the character designs add the personality. Wirt and Greg have iconic costume designs mixing contemporary creative Halloween looks with a classic aesthetic. Additionally, the villagers throughout the various settings of the Unknown are simply unforgettable. From well-dressed frogs to the undead pumpkin wearers in Pottsfield, from a school filled with animals to wealthy tea company owners, from the Highwayman’s (Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton) stubble and black eye marks to Auntie Whisper’s (Tim Curry) cuddly yet monstrous look, McHale fills The Unknown with any creature and human you can imagine.

Aside from the great animation, the score by The Blasting Company adds so much to the nostalgic and creepy vibes the show has. The opening and closing shots of the second episode, “Chapter 2: Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee,” features a leaf blowing through the wind with several shots of the scenery. Parts of the song “Prelude” play in the background of both, and the rustic orchestral violin perfectly orchestrates the moment. And like fall's changing leaves, the score changes throughout the series. Greg sings the playful song “Potatoes and Molasses” to lighten the mood of the animal school children. Jones later performs the thoughtful, inviting “Over the Garden Wall” during a transitional point in the middle of the series as the main trio boards a boat of frogs. Once again, as the series gets darker, the music matches, featuring colder piano and wind instruments that swirl like the old north wind on a cold Halloween night.

Over the Garden Wall even goes a step above by casting baritone Samuel Ramey as the villainous Beast to sing multiple operatic hymns that are consistently featured throughout the series to warn characters of his presence. Somehow, they found a way to turn that adorable “Potatoes and Molasses” into a chilling, operatic reprise in the finale that mirrors one of the Beast’s songs, “Come Wayward Souls,” and perfectly encapsulates its scene. Not only does the score work as a fantastic Halloween album for any car ride, but it also matches the series and its scenes to a tee.

The protagonists' modern-feeling, charming journey features them growing to respect each other throughout the series. That connects to the family message of the series. Wirt is still reeling from his parent’s divorce and has not fully accepted Greg as his true brother. He says as much in the flashback episode “Into the Unknown,” blaming Greg and his “stupid dad” for ruining his life by “prodding” him with advice. Greg takes on a surrogate role of Wirt’s stepdad in the series, unknowingly frustrating Wirt both because he is an energetic, talkative child and because of the reminder of the divorce (in one key scene, they come together literally by trick-or-treating). Their journey through the unknown forges their bond, with Wirt helping Greg name their frog by the end of the series. Wirt’s pairing with Beatrice – who accidentally turned her and her family into bluebirds – works as two jaded, confused characters trying to grapple with their places in their families.

Over the Garden Wall has enough of a compelling narrative to pair with its excellent emotive and nostalgic mood to be a phenomenal watch for the fall season. The miniseries evokes the sense of fall and Halloween with every shadow and tree on the screen. It is made to be a Halloween classic in every sense.

Over the Garden Wall is streaming now on Hulu and HBO Max.

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