There was a time when I enjoyed watching television. The internet has almost anything you’d like to watch, but that wasn’t why I stopped watching cable. The biggest reason was that the channels I followed stopped showing cartoons. For a long time I have been interested in animation, and since anime wasn’t shown outside of the late hours on Adult Swim, I would watch cartoons. Even Cartoon Network switched to showing more live action shows around 2010. Within the past few years channels have aired new animated shows like Steven Universe and Gravity Falls that I’ve been following online instead.
I almost completely missed one of my favorite series, Over the Garden Wall, because it was only aired for one week in November 2014 on Cartoon Network. Luckily I follow the right people on Tumblr, or I would have never known it existed. It’s a great example of original storytelling that doesn’t rely on tropes or stereotypes. What really shocked me was how the female protagonist was portrayed. Despite not being human, she had character, and the other protagonists respected her opinions. Best of all, she isn’t made into a romantic interest! In this show, even the grim characters aren’t always painted as villains, and I can’t help but love a show that can develop interesting characters despite their appearances.
Over the Garden Wall follows two half-brothers, Wirt and Greg, as they try to find their way back home through the forest. They save Beatrice, a little bluebird, who in return helps them throughout their journey. The group comes across a lot of strange towns, plenty of monsters, and help more people along their way. Later we learn that Wirt and Greg’s travels are actually dreams, and they wake up in a hospital by the end of the show. It’s an unusually serious series; even the main characters almost die several times. Each protagonist grows more as a person, despite the show being ten episodes long.
The leading lady, Beatrice, is a sarcastic girl who was cursed into living as a bluebird. I didn’t expect the boys to take her seriously, especially since Wirt mentions in the beginning how suspicious a talking bluebird is in this world. She is generally blunt and kind of rude to them both throughout their travels, but they never cage her or do anything to make her leave. They generally trust her and believe that she’s trying to lead them home. After so many movies and shows that use animals as comedy relief or for comfort, it’s nice to see animals with more of a serious personality. She’s smart, keeps the boys on track, and actually saves Wirt in the end. By the last episode she treats the boys with more respect, and learns to admit her own mistakes instead of focusing on others’ problems.
What I admired about the show was how Beatrice never became a F.R.I. (or forced romantic interest). Having a female protagonist as a F.R.I. has become a tired formula for stories, and I was relieved that Over the Garden Wall avoided it altogether. When Wirt realizes that she used to be a human, he doesn’t treat her any differently; he still treats her as a friend. There are other girls Wirt becomes interested in throughout the show, but nothing stems past a momentary crush. It’s nice to see a fairy-tale styled story without having forced relationships or marriages happening.
One of my favorite episodes of the bunch is The Ringing of the Bell. The group gets stuck in a downpour and stumbles upon a cabin. They meet Lorna, a girl forced to continuously do chores throughout her days. She lives with a woman who calls herself Auntie Whispers, who the boys believe eats any person who come to her house. It’s understandable, since her first few words are, “Has anyone come here today?” and “Then no one shall be devoured alive tonight?” Of the two, it’s hard to imagine Lorna eating people whole with her body size. Then Auntie Whispers claims to smell children hiding inside, and orders Lorna to tell her where they are. Soon they find out that Lorna is possessed by an evil spirit, and she is the one who eats people. Auntie Whispers was trying to find the boys so they don’t get devoured too. It’s a good twist, and a nice lesson for any children who are watching. Even if people aren’t exactly socially graceful, they aren’t bad people.
There are so many reasons that I like this show. Female characters are not subjected to being romantic interests or being villains if they’re a bit grotesque. There’s a surprisingly large amount of celebrities voicing characters, from Elijah Wood as Wirt to Tim Curry and John Cleese as other side characters. There are a lot of callbacks to older styles of animation (black and white Disney animations for example), and even the songs are memorable and pleasant to listen to. The story has the best pacing I’ve seen in a long time, and knows how to end on a good note. Over the Garden Wall is truly a unique series I’ll never forget. I can’t wait to see what kind of other projects Cartoon Network will broadcast next!
What did you think of Over the Garden Wall? Have any other shows to recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts below!