Over the Garden Wall is one of the weirdest – and most brilliant – animations you will ever see. Honestly, it’s bonkers, but utterly mesmerizing. And the extraordinary thing is your children will probably be hooked as well.
Premiering in the UK on Cartoon Network today [April 6th], at first the 10-part series looks nothing special. Fairly rudimentary animation about two young boys who for some reason have found themselves journeying (as the title says) over their garden wall and into some woods called The Unknown.
The older of the two, voiced by Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, is called Wirt, and he’s a slightly neurotic procrastinator who loves poetry and the clarinet. The other, his braver more innocent sibling, is Greg (Colin Dean voices him) and he sports a teapot on his head. Oh, and he carries around a pet frog who can only communicate through singing. They are accompanied on their travels by a female bluebird (voiced by Melanie Lynskey) who we later learn is a young woman under a curse.
And then it gets really crazy.
It must touch you on some deep, dream-like level because you really get sucked into their world. As with a dream, you never question why you are there, or who you are or what the time is: you just go with it. And when your first adventure sees you emerge into a place called Pottsville where humanoid creatures with pumpkin heads dance round a maypole, I suppose you have no choice.
“Here’s a normal town with normal people,” says one of the boys with an understatement that got me laughing (that’s the other thing – it’s really funny).
Then they move on. As with a dream you can find yourself anywhere, including a kind of English stately home occupied by an eccentric aristocrat voiced by John Cleese, who is in love with a ghost (or so he thinks).
Occasionally they bump into a wise (or is he?) elderly woodsman voiced by Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd and menaced by a monster of some sort that stalks them and appears intent on leading them astray. And of course there’s a talking horse.
There’s some brilliant music too and some other cracking characters and guest stars voiced by the likes of Fred Stoller and Deborah Voight.
There is a sense throughout that Wirt has a tendency to get lost in his own thoughts, while his younger sibling Greg is sucked into the wonder and fun of the world around him. But that’s growing up for you, that’s being young, that’s being an adolescent.
And the best bit? I took my two young girls, aged six and three, to watch the whole series and, while I was captivated, felt a little guilty. Surely they wouldn’t have enjoyed it? Surely they would be soon telling me how baffled and scared they were? But they loved it. They wanted to see more.
I have seen it all, so won’t add any more spoilers, except to say that the discoveries become ever more surprising. The fact that the boys have quasi-modern sensibilities and yet are thrown into a weird netherworld is eventually explained – without detracting from the magic. You will wake up from this dream, and you will be sad to leave it behind.
Sometimes TV programmes can really take you by surprise in as magical and magnificent a way possible, and Over the Garden Wall does that.
It is bold, imaginative, profound storytelling that eschews convention and really touches deep areas of your psyche with dazzling effect. I really can’t put it any simpler than that. Watch it!
Over the Garden Wall launches on the 6th April at 6pm on Cartoon Network