A little over seven years ago, Cartoon Network released what was — and still stands up as — an arguably perfect piece of television, an animated miniseries called Over the Garden Wall.
The Emmy-winning series is the brainchild of Patrick McHale, who also worked on Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
Its stellar cast of voice actors — including Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey, and Christopher Lloyd as regulars, and cameos from the likes of Tim Curry — plus enchanting, old-timey animation style would be enough to lure you in on their own.
But the soundtrack, which plays an active part in the narrative despite it not being a musical, elevates it to another class altogether.
There’s nothing quite like it out there.
The timelessness of the story — there are very few indicators as to exactly when this all takes place — makes it easy to latch onto.
And now, especially, in the dead of an unrelenting winter (it’s 9 degrees F where I am) and in the third year of a pandemic that’s reshaped our entire lives, it resonates more than ever; we’re all just trying to find our way back to normal.
Over the Garden Wall plops half-brothers Greg and Wirt into a dark forest called The Unknown, where they increasingly find themselves in bizarre and sometimes hostile situations as they try to make their way home.
They’re not (and, by extension, you’re not) quite sure how they got there, and the curious people and talking animals they meet along the way only add to the mystery of their predicament.
As many fans have pointed out over the years (and even written theses on), Wirt and Greg’s adventure shares a lot in common with Dante’s The Divine Comedy, particularly the structure of Inferno.
And McHale welcomes the theories, last year telling Inverse, “Any interpretation that feels right to people is a perfectly valid interpretation to me.”
Vinyl copies of the OTGW soundtrack, composed by The Blasting Company, go for $250-300 these days. And, you know what? If I had the money to blow, I’d scoop one up in a heartbeat. It just hits that hard. Folk, Americana, some good ol’ riverboat jazz — it’s incredible.
Good luck getting Greg’s gleeful “Potatoes and Molasses” out of your head, or the absurd yet sorrowful ABCs of “Ms. Langtree’s Lament”. The Highwayman’s brief, mesmerizing number makes me yearn for hazy New Orleans nights.
The only thing that’s come near it in recent memory is, perhaps, Cuphead, a game that also perfectly blends charismatic characters, old-timey animation, and an absolutely enthralling soundtrack.
It wasn’t until the Cuphead Show trailer came out last week that it occurred to me that these two totally independent gems are, spiritually, very much alike (especially once you start thinking about the Inferno tie-in and Cuphead’s mixup with the Devil).