an awesome work of imagination for kids and adults
As I was watching Over the Garden Wall with some friends, I found myself commenting, more than once, how charming this would be/is for kids. It's got anthropomorphic creations (birds and horses and other things that talk, pumpkin-headed farmers, frogs in a band on a river-bank, magical and funny and weird dreams, or a dream, from a child), and yet it has a sophistication to the writing that kids appreciate; one might think that they will only take in the lowest-common denominator - put on whatever, it's fine, it's for kids - but this is smart stuff. This is also really great for adults, the ones at least who can tap a little into their childhood sense of awe, because of the humor and irreverence. Over the Garden Wall is like taking Adventure Time, transferring the other-worldly into early 20th century Americana, folk tales, even some Alice in Wonderland (the structure for me is very Wonderland, especially with a young character getting lost and on a series of episodes), and adding some songs as well that are reflective of the period.
The story follows Wirt and Gregory (Elijah Wood and the young Collin Dean, who has been on Adventure Time a couple of times), brothers who seem to be lost in the woods and are trying to find their way home. Their main adversary appears to be 'The Beast', who is being stalked by the Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd in a wonderful part - you can't always tell if he's good or bad or both). As one can imagine, or hope for, a lot of wild and crazy things happen to these young people, such as the pumpkin farmers (what are they digging for in the farm?), the frogs on the boat (and suddenly there may be some singing from Gregory's frog, who's name always changes), and John Cleese as both the possibly deranged landowner of a spooky mansion and an old woman. Even Tim Curry gets a good character as 'Auntie Whispers', who is 'protecting' her niece, a possessed girl.
The creators of 'Garden Wall' suffuse many scenes with some nightmarish moments, but it's all with a light, absurd touch, and a lot of this is helped immensely by Collin Dean's performance and the writing for the character of Gregory. This is a little kid who has zero filter; he'll say the truth of something no matter what, even if it's a moment (especially if it is) when the smart thing would be to lie or shut up. That's where so much humor comes in - also watch and listen how he sings ever so cheerfully at times - since in many scenes Wert is trying to get by on a fib or a lie or a trick, or doesn't have that sense of boundless optimism. It's one of the most charming acting voices for an animated character in as long as I can remember, and accentuated by the gigantic pupils - made to make him look cute as a button - and head-gear (he's an elephant, after all!)
There's a real sense of play and, equally, danger (the final episode with the Beast, Auntie Curry), and I found myself laughing a lot, but I also found I took this story a little more seriously than I would an Adventure Time or something else with Patrick McHale's name on it. It takes from some folk tales and fairy tales, but it has an identity all its own. It's creepy and weird and adorable and heartfelt, and it carries both the awe and innocence of being a little kid and the disillusionment of being a teenager like Wert. And did I mention the songs are a lot of fun and contribute to the atmosphere? It's like taking in old ragtime songs (some of the time) and giving them an animated, pop-up book feel. It's tremendous, semi-subversive stuff for kids, and a joy for adults.
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