Monday, November 3, 2014

Sweet like potatoes and molasses - Thoughts on "Over the Garden Wall"

On Saturday night I dropped ten bucks on iTunes for a series I have never seen and that hasn't even technically aired yet.  I watched the first episode, briefly thought of saving the rest for the next morning to enjoy over a cup of Pumpkin Spice coffee, and by Midnight I'd already ditched that plan and watched the whole thing.  And wanted to watch it again immediately.  And write this review telling everyone I know (and whoever I don't know who stumbles upon this here blog of mine; welcome, please stand clear of the doors and enjoy the ride) about how awesome the series is and how they should watch it, even though I was rendered pretty speechless and had to sleep on it, with the incredible songs and dreamy Jack Jones narration running through my brain all night.

Quick tangent, but it's an important one: We live in an incredible time for fans of animation.  Thus far in 2014, three of the best television series I've been watching are all animated ("Adventure Time", "Steven Universe", and "Gravity Falls".)  Lest we forget, "Legend of Korra" makes a fourth television series - if it were on TV but let's not even go there.  So far "South Park" has been very good, and there has been a host of great shows from previous years I missed out on but have been able to catch up with on Netflix instant ("Young Justice"!!!)  And so now we live in a world where Cartoon Network can air a five-night animated miniseries.

If Patrick McHale's animated miniseries (and again, how awesome is it that I live in a world where I can type that!) "Over the Garden Wall" isn't the best animated series I'll see in 2014, it will at least have been one of the most fascinating.  And if you don't want to read me gush about how wonderful the series is and what it *feels* like, just know that "Over the Garden Wall" is awesome, and you need to DVR it immediately.

It's rare that we get to see anything that feels so much like a glimpse into it's creators' brains in live-action, never mind a well-promoted animated miniseries on a popular cable network directed primarily at young folks.  And yet here's a weird, slightly spooky fable about what it is to be lost children in an overwhelming world that looks like it was dug right out of Maurice Sendak and Max Fleischer's long lost files.  It's a strange, forgotten, but lavishly illustrated turn of the century storybook set to fantastic music.  I can see how this story could have been told as a feature film, but the miniseries format helps it tremendously.  It allows the writers the freedom to follow the rambling, surreal tangents of traditional folktales.  The characters really only have one goal: finding their way back home, so why not get lost in the weird corners of imagination along the way?

Addendum: A quick look around the Internet reveals a minor controversy about "Over the Garden Wall": is it "too scary"?  My feeling is, if your kid freaks out at the monsters in "My Little Pony", this is definitely a no-go.  If your kid coasted through the Lich episodes of "Adventure Time", they should be fine.  Honestly, the creepiest thing about "Over the Garden Wall" is (spoilertime) this is the one animated series I'm aware of where the crazy "Ash is in a coma!" "Finn is dying and dreaming this whole thing!" people are right!

So yeah, "Over the Garden Wall".  It's outstanding.  You should watch it.  Then download the soundtrack and join me in a rousing rendition of the Highwayman's Song.

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Sketch of the Day!

It's a small throw-away joke, but you have to love Greg's unique theory, RE: dinosaur soft tissue. (With apologies to Brian Engh.)

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