Monday, 10 November 2014

Monthly Animation Waffle:- Over the Garden Wall

Seeing as I blogged last month about my love of 'Bojack Horseman', the animated show that showed the dark and lonely side of fame whilst simultaneously making seal-based puns, I'd like to continue in a similar vein this month. I'd like to opine a while, if you'd indulge me (well if you're reading this, you're already technically allowing me to do so) on a very, very different but equally wonderful series I discovered  during my standard bouts of procrastination.
'Over the Garden Wall' is a Cartoon Network ten-part miniseries (the first that Cartoon Network have done) that aired over the course of a week (in fact starting a week ago today), each part lasting ten minutes. The miracles of the internet being what they are, I was able to watch it around the same time as well.
To avoid spoiling anything too much, I'll give you the abridged version of the plot. It centres around two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) a cynical (but not unkind), shy teenager, and his younger kid brother Greg (Collin Dean) a wide-eyed innocent who delights in the fun and adventure to be had wherever they may be. Somehow, they are lost in a mysterious, possibly supernatural forest called 'The Unknown.' The episodes deal with the strange people and creatures they encounter as they try to find their way home. Accompanying them on these adventures is a world-weary and impatient blue-bird called Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) who acts as a pseudo-guide and may know more about the whole situation than she's letting on.

This sounds pretty much like a fairy-tale right? You'd be correct in your judgement, from the aesthetics, to the way nearly all the parts can stand alone as a self-contained morality tale, even to the way each episode begins with a engraved frontispiece with the episode title on, like chapters. It all serves to convey a literary motif, as though this is all  like a fantastical book of 19th century children's fiction you often see in second hand book shops. One of those that comes complete with deep, lusciously detailed colour illustrations. The traditionally child-like and fantastical elements of the supernatural, anthropmorphised animals, and  spooky beings beyond the comprehension of our two main characters gel surprisingly well with the more adult themes approached within the episodes. Depression, loneliness, love, regret and betrayal all make their appearances within the span of this short series, dealt with in a way that doesn't feel awkwardly shoehorned in, or mawkish. In fact, the series as a whole reminds me more of a fairy tale for the older ones like Wirt. A fairy-tale for those dealing with that strange, awkward, un-knowable stage in life and those who may have seemingly left that child-like part of themselves behind as they search for a new identity.

The animation itself is simply stunning, reminding me at some times of the rich and vibrant colours of a Studio Ghibli production (this I feel, also came out in some aspects of the character design). The backgrounds you can just delve into and absorb their atmosphere like a rich perfume.  It also seems to have drawn influence from such varied sources as the Max Fleischer cartoons of the early 30's (keep your eyes out for a Betty-Boop-esque barmaid in one episode) and European folk art. Coupled with this is the sterling voice work of the main cast (Elijah Wood is especially wonderful at conveying the awkward, sometimes contrarian Wirt) alongside some great guest voice actors, such as John Cleese as a billionaire who may or may not be on the verge of madness, and Christopher Lloyd as a strange and sinister woodsman. Music also takes centre stage as well, with both the ambient soundtrack and specific musical moments (these are too good to spoil here) rooted firmly in the early 20th century American folk tradition. Some of the songs I could easily imagine Woody Guthrie singing in an alternate universe. Major props go to the The Petrojvic Blasting Company for composing the score.

So overall, Over the Garden Wall has all these high quality aspects coming together to produce a beautiful piece of work, which hopefully Cartoon Network will repeat annually, instead of just shoving into a metaphorical cupboard.  I have read some people online clamouring for more of this, a sequel, a series of these adventures, and I think they're missing the point. All fairy-tales, including this one, have a definitive ending, a 'happily-ever-after.'  To have something that exists in this day and age as an entire whole, with a beginning, a middle and an end and sans an undignified afterlife where network executives try to elongate and press as much money as possible out of it, is a very rare thing indeed. Besides, it would be most unfitting to the whimsy and imagination of the world conjured up by this series if they tried to recreate this microcosm again. I mean, can you really disappear down a rabbit-hole more than once?

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