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‘Over the Garden Wall’ beautifully explores the unknown

(Cartoon Network Official Facebook Page)

(Cartoon Network Official Facebook Page)

If there’s one thing that encapsulates the spirit of Halloween, it’s the imagination that spawns from our relationship and fascination with the unknown.

No television series understands this better than Patrick McHale’s Emmy Award-winning “Over the Garden Wall.” A former writer and creative director on the infamously popular “Adventure Time,” McHale has proven his ability to tell unique, compelling stories through animation ­– and nowhere are his talents better showcased than in this deceptively simple miniseries.

The story begins with teenaged Wirt (Elijah Wood) and his younger half-brother Gregory (Collin Dean) finding themselves lost in a mysterious forest not so subtly named “The Unknown.” With help from a gruff and ominous Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) and an overbearing bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), the two boys traverse this strange and dangerous world in search of a way back home.

“Over the Garden Wall” explores how our fears and curiosities can often lead us astray when we too hastily predict a situation. Often times, the show’s narrative purposely withholds evidence or plants false information to make reveals all the more effective. Something that appears sinister at first may turn out to be perfectly harmless, while something seemingly amicable and welcoming may be revealed to be malevolent in nature.

Most importantly, the miniseries does not rely on cheap jump scares and predictable backstories to feed into our fears. Instead, it targets a fear plenty of people share: that of the unfamiliar, of the unknown. After all, what can be more frightening than not knowing what lies ahead?

There are different approaches to facing the unknown, which the characters’ personalities represent. Gregory embodies optimism in the face of danger and despair, despite it sometimes impeding his view of reality. Wirt, on the other hand, errs on the side of caution, leading him to act more cynical and guarded toward the unknown. Aside from their charming dynamic, the brothers’ opposing outlooks on the strange world around them help to blur the line of what is truly real and what is in their heads.

“If dreams can’t come true, then why not pretend?” one line in the show’s theme song asks. From the opening sequence, this theme rings true throughout the entirety of the 10-episode miniseries. We couldn’t help but consider the role of the truth (or lack thereof) in facing the unknown. What do we do to cope with the situation? How do we provide ourselves with reassurance? These are overarching questions in “Over the Garden Wall.”

The show taps into a nostalgic aspect of childhood, the tendency to use one’s imagination to provide answers for the unanswerable questions of reality. “Over the Garden Wall” thrives off imagination, referring to it poetically as “the loveliest lies of all.”

This reminds the audience about the importance of imagination and positive thinking in the face of adversity, while still acknowledging them as “lies” that are separate from the real world. All in all, Halloween is a time for imaginations to run wild, for costumes to be donned and fears to be looked in the eye – things “Over the Garden Wall” achieves beautifully.

Wirt, Greg and Beatrice each go through transformations at different points of this whimsical adventure. This results in a unique friendship between the three, pushing them to bond as they journey through this storybook world together. We later learn more about what makes each character tick, allowing us to understand the complexity of their personalities.

This heartwarming miniseries will leave you with some important lessons about feeling lost, and a desire to see more. “Over the Garden Wall” has earned its place among the ranks of beloved evergreen fairytales – for both old fans and the uninitiated, it’s well worth the watch.

Aakanksha Gupta can be reached at aakankshagup@umass.edu. Owen McCarthy can be reached at ommcarthy@umass.edu.

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