October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Over the Garden Wall (2014)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey
Synopsis: A miniseries, in ten 11-minute episodes, about two boys who are lost in a mysterious wood and are trying to find their way home. Wirt is a teenager, frustrated with his young half-brother, Greg, who is imaginative, happy-go-lucky, and adorably annoying. Along with Greg’s pet frog (whose name changes many times) and a girl-turned-bluebird named Beatrice, they meet many strange and mysterious characters, all the while being stalked by the Beast – who wants to turn them into oil-trees to feed the lantern of a woodsman they meet. As the series progresses we learn that the boys are really modern children from our world, who fell off the wall of a cemetery on Halloween while Wirt was trying to get an embarrassing mixtape back from the girl he likes. In the end Wirt and Greg manage to defeat the Beast with the help of the woodsman, who hadn’t known the trees he was cutting down were children, and make their way home. Wirt is met in the hospital by his crush, and he realizes how much he appreciates Greg as his brother.
I’m late with this, but I did manage something for every day of October! It was a great month of movies and TV and I look forward to venturing into into new waters next Halloween season!
I don’t use the term instant classic lightly, but that’s exactly what Over the Garden Wall is. It’s Cartoon Network’s first miniseries, a lavish, creepy, self-contained story from Adventure Time alum Patrick McHale. And while its pedigree is easy to spot, Over the Garden Wall manages to be very much its own thing. In some ways the story and morals are familiar to anyone. It’s a journey tale, in which two people who were at odds with each form a bond and mature through their mutual trials. The morals of the individuals stories contained within are simple, primarily about not judging books by their covers, and they have an Alice in Wonderland meets Wind in the Willows feel to them. The who thing seems very old fashioned, and perhaps that’s what made me feel so instantly at home in its universe.
Despite the sense of familiarity, right down to the beautiful-but-simplistic throwback animation, it manages to combine all these elements in a way that is just so delightfully weird you can’t help but fall in love with it. Skeletons who dress up as pumpkins for Halloween, a girl who’s got her whole family turned into bluebirds, and two incredibly wealthy tea moguls who fall in love after realize their massive estates are connected and first each thinking the other is a ghost in their home. There’s an entire episode set in a magic cloud land that feels like a trippy cartoon short from the 30’s and may or may not be the dream of a boy slowly freezing to death.
Over the Garden Wall is comfortable in ambiguity and doesn’t appear interested in answering what parts are “real” or not. The ending could easily be interpreted as the boys’ entire adventure being just a hallucination from when they were nearly hit by a train and fell into the lake, nearly drowning, as their travels start and end with that same scene. But both boys remember the same events, the frog still contains a bell it ate when they rescued a girl from a demon, and the very end scenes are flashbacks to the inhabitants of the woods they met, showing what happened to all of them (mostly good things) after the boys left. In the show’s universe, its entirely possible that it was all a dream and also completely real at the same time, and I’m completely fine with that.
It’s hard to pick out what’s best about this series – I’ve already mentioned the animation, the new twist on familiar themes, and the dreamlike quality of the whole thing. The depth and uniqueness of the individual characters also moves it beyond the realm of your basic fable. But what might stand out the most are the voice performances. With actors like Tim Curry, John Cleese, and Christopher Lloyd as well as lesser-known but no less talented players, the series is a gold mine of superlative voice work. Additionally, all the episodes have at least one song in them, which helps showcase the voices even further as well as providing a memorable, folksy touchstone for each.
In all, Over the Garden Wall hits just the right balance of comforting and creepy, with a deeply satisfying ending (or endings, for all the denizens of the woods), a positive morality that doesn’t descend into naivety, and a gorgeous sensibility in sight and sound. I plan to watch this every Halloween for many years to come, and the only thing stopping me from watching it much more often is that I want to make sure it remains as special to me as it is now.
Rating: 10 out of 10 in all possible categories. Spooky, sweet, scary, and strange, I can’t think of a better way to wrap up my Halloween media adventures. And that’s a Rock Fact!