In Cartoon Network’s new animation Over the Garden Wall, Elijah Wood voices the character of Wirt, a young man who ventures with his male companion into the unknown on a mission into a dark netherworld full of dangers and monsters – and finds some people on the way who may just do him a good turn.
For fans of Tolkien, this might sound familiar…
Of course, the Lord of the Rings actor is aware of certain parallels between his latest gig and his most famous role, that of Frodo Baggins, the ring-bearer in director Peter Jackson’s much-loved film trilogy.
“It’s kind of a familiar trope throughout storytelling. Leaving your own land, getting lost in another, people you meet along the way and ultimately trying to get back home,” he says of the new project, created by independent filmmaker Patrick McHale. (In Over the Garden Wall the two boys are actually siblings it must be noted as well).
“But the fact is I was drawn, really, truly to the animation style. It felt like a very classical, older animation style and it seemed really beautiful.
“I was intrigued by its darkness and how it could be a little scary. It could be this interesting safe place where we could explore things we were scared of. And bringing that to kids’ lives was healthy and really good.”
Still, it’s hard not to be drawn to the subject of Lord of the Rings when you’re around him. Even Wood himself mentions it unprompted, his extraordinary blue eyes lighting up.
“It changed my life but not because I was part of something huge. But it changed my life as a person. The life experience that I was able to have as a result of living in New Zealand and working with that incredible team of people. And I made the best friends of my life. It’s the first time I lived away from home for any extended period of time so I grew immensely as a result of making those films.”
I have no doubt he did. But does he feel that this enormous success came a little early, that he will never do any work as huge – or perhaps even acclaimed – as those films? Was he ever worried that the Rings films – like the ring for Frodo – would prove a curse?
“When you finish something like that you intrinsically know you will never do anything on that scale again. There will never be an experience comparable to it. That’s not to say there won’t be other experiences of equal value or new life experiences with regard to making films.
“I don’t see it as a curse. I always knew I would always be associated with it. That was something I accepted a long time ago. I am not surprised it’s an easy reference point for people just as people would associate Harrison Ford with Han Solo.”
Still, he enjoys the films, and admits he will linger by the TV set if he catches them on repeat (which, let’s face it, happens quite a lot). He also appeared very briefly in the first Hobbit film, Jackson’s subsequent franchise that may have made plenty of cash but didn’t – I suggest – have quite the same impact as Lord of the Rings. Does he agree with that assessment? And if so, why did it fail to match Lord of the Rings’ critical heights?
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought of it. It’s hard to know. They are really massive movies. [The Hobbit movies] cost more than The Lord of the Rings. They had to make more money back. I don’t know. I think The Lord of the Rings holds perhaps a deeper place in people’s hearts than The Hobbit the book does. I grew up actually reading The Hobbit, not The Lord of the Rings. I loved The Hobbit growing up. I mean, they were pretty damn successful…”