Taking A Trip Back “Over the Garden Wall”

Audrey Avril ’19

A chilly wind stirs across campus. The leaves start to shiver on the trees. Before we know it, we’ll be right in the middle of autumn. From brisk weather and hearty celebration to cold rain and solemn remembrances, fall’s got it all. What better way to get into the spirit of it all by taking another musical journey into the Unknown with Over the Garden Wall.

For those who haven’t been smitten with the show (yet), Over the Garden Wall is a 10 episode mini-series created by Patrick McHale that originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2014. The story follows Wirt (voiced by Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), two brothers who find themselves lost in a mysterious woods. They encounter a colorful cast of characters, from a mysterious harvest cult to a talking bluebird as they attempt to find their way home and avoid falling into the clutches of “the Beast.”

As simple as the premise sounds, the tone and design sense dazzles in Over the Garden Wall. Where most cartoons are bright and outlandishly saturated, the colors and landscape of Over the Garden Wall are rich and nuanced. The characters and tone feel lovingly pulled from an old American folktale. It feels like a story  from an old time long past, yet is still sweet in our collected memory.  And then there’s the music.

Composed and performed by The Blasting Company (Brandon Armstrong, Joshua Kaufman, and Justin Rubenstein), each track manages to be both strikingly unique in tone and influence while also delivering an honest pang of nostalgia throughout. The opening theme, “Into the Unknown,” sets the tone from the beginning, as Jack Jones lulls us into the bittersweet world of the Unknown with bravado, longing, and gentle piano accompaniment.

From there, we are treated to a rich variety of influences from Americana past. We get the jaunty chorus of a country song from “Potsfield,” the wilting lament of love lost in “Langtree’s Lament,” a chipper tavern tale from “A Courting Song,” and even some brass in “Marching Band.” Many of the songs with lyrics are sung as part of the story of the show, so be warned for potential spoilers if you haven’t watched the show. Many of the songs of this nature such as “Like Ships” or Greg’s charmingly cringe-y childhood ditty “Potatoes and Molasses” are admittedly more enjoyable within the context and alongside the animation. However, the tunes and themes can return in stunning fashion as the show progresses. The reprise for “Potatoes and Molasses,” once reached, is breathtaking and heartbreaking.

One of the biggest strengths in the music is the element of antiquated sound that is achieved through a loving appreciation for songs of old. “I Can’t Fix it,” and “One is a Bird” both strike this chord, blending lilting hums and quaint lyrics into 19th-century laments. It is nostalgic in the way an old log cabin, a faded landscape painting, or a set of old sterling silverware is nostalgic.

Another pleasant surprise from the soundtrack is the almost hymnal tone of some of the compositions. “Forward, Oneioroi!” is almost operatic in the way it lifts the spirit (and the story) along with it. The song of the Beast, “Come Wayward Souls,” is both as dark and foreboding as any good villain song should be, yet sounds startlingly like an old Christmas song stuck on the tip of one’s tongue. It adds a maturity and gravity to the show that most cartoons never achieve. Sometimes, it makes you wonder if this is truly a “kid’s show.”

So as autumn starts to color fall, maybe it is time to take a trip back through the woods with this startling piece of animation and it’s hauntingly gorgeous soundtrack.

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