Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Going 'Over the Garden Wall'

Since we find ourselves once again the greatest season of them all (Autumn, in case you were wondering) and fast approaching that most awesome of holidays (Halloween, obviously) it seems like a good time to talk about a little cartoon called Over the Garden Wall, which first aired on Cartoon Network last November, and released on DVD this September. In my humble opinion, Over the Garden Wall is perfect Autumn viewing: ten episodes of pure, animated, New American Gothic brilliance. OTGW comes from writer Patrick McHale, an Adventure Time alumni behind some of my favourite episodes. Not that I’m biased.

Over the Garden Wall is the tale of half-brothers, Greg and Wirt, who lose their way in the woods and find themselves in a land the show refers to as The Unknown where nothing seems quite right. Over the course of its episodes, they attempt to find their way back home alongside a talking bird called Beatrice and warnings to beware the Beast. Though the premise is hardly original in itself, OTGW treads familiar ground with new and very different feet. Visually, its individuality and attention to detail is extremely engaging and entertaining: Greg wears a teapot on his head, there’s a wolf with LSD eyes and villagers wearing pumpkins. The score and soundtrack are equally excellent- the first episode opens with a frog playing the piano, if that gives you any indication of tone and content:

It’s actually (as I am now discovering after deleting the same paragraph four times) rather hard to describe what’s so wonderful and enthralling about Over the Garden Wall without ruining it. It takes it cues from a number of classic Gothic tropes and conventions- there is the strange small town with their odd Harvest celebration, an aging recluse whose sprawling mansion may be haunted and/or he may descending into madness, and even some instances of demonic possession- the show blends these tropes with humour and twists audience expectations. Like Adventure Time, Stephen Universe, and Bee and Puppycat, OTGW exists in the tradition of a children’s animation at face value, with something much more intricate beneath the surface. I watched the first four episodes swinging between hysterical laughter and goose bumps- the first reveal of the shows shadowy antagonist, the Beast, was probably not the last thing I should have watched before bed. Not that it’s much of an indicator, since I’m a terrible Gothicist and very easily scared.

Originally, I had hoped discuss the way in which the show plays with classic Gothic conventions and audience expectations to create something that is at once an evident product of its genre and something entirely original and unique. But to do that, as I mentioned, I’d have to spoil the show. So I’m going to show some self-restraint and refrain from doing that, and instead use this post as PSA. This autumn, watch Over the Garden Wall. You won’t be disappointed- that’s a rock fact.

Lauren Nixon is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield studying gender in the early novel and the Gothic. She loves potatoes and molasses! If you want some - oh just ask us!

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