Over the Garden Wall is an animated television miniseries created for Cartoon Network by Patrick McHale, known for his work on Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. It was based on McHale’s animated short, Tome of the Unknown. The miniseries consisted of ten episodes that were broadcast throughout the week of November 3rd in 2014. McHale directed all the episodes, with Nick Cross serving as art director and Nate Cash as supervising director. The show is considered a critical and popular success, with a 9.2/10 rating on IMDb and the recipient of the 2015 Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society.
The story features two half-brothers, Wirt and Gregory, who have become lost in a mysterious wood called The Unknown and attempt to find their way home with the help of the Woodsman and Beatrice the bluebird. The atmosphere in The Unknown is generally menacing although there are many moments of playful whimsy. Many of the episodes are rooted in folktales and children’s stories from the 19th and early 20th centuries while the style of animation and storytelling borrow heavily from early cartoons. The series is inspired by myths and old wives' tales that have been passed down throughout the years.
The central story involves Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Gregory (Collin Dean), two half-brothers who find themselves lost in a strange, magical forest called The Unknown. They come upon a grim Woodsman whose job involves cutting down “Edlewood" trees that he grinds into oil in his mill, which he then uses to keep his lantern constantly alight. He warns the boys of The Beast, a terrible creature that haunts the woods in search of lost children. The Woodsman tells the boys to head North, look for a town, and escape the woods if they can.
The boys—along with Greg’s pet frog (which is constantly being called new names)—head down the path and meet the acerbic Beatrice, a talking bluebird. Because Greg helps her get free of a bush, she agrees to help the children get home by taking them to see Adelaide of the Pasture, the Good Woman of the Woods. On the way to Adelaide’s Pasture, the group have various adventures where they meet numerous denizens of The Unknown.
First they stumble upon the harvest festival in Pottsfield where they are found guilty of minor crimes by the fantastical mayor, Enoch, and are sentenced to a few hours of manual labor in the fields. The brothers then help save a small schoolhouse for animals from financial ruin and a rampaging gorilla. While hitching a ride on a hay cart, they become lost. In search of directions, they enter a creepy tavern populated by narrative archetypes (e.g. the Butcher, the Tailor, the Highwayman, etc). Beatrice is banished by the Tavern Keeper and Wirt is declared initially to be a simple-minded Fool, then the Young Lover, and finally a Pilgrim on a Sacred Journey. When Beatrice is heard screaming in the woods, Wirt (along with Greg and his frog) dash to the rescue on a horse he takes from the stable. They come upon the Woodsman, whom they have come to suspect might be the Beast. Greg is able to collect the unconscious Beatrice and they flee into the forest. The Beast then comes out of the woods to speak to the Woodsman, where it is revealed that the Woodsman keeps the lantern lit because his daughter’s spirit is kept alive within it.
Back on the path to Adelaide’s Pasture—thanks to the horse, which is able to talk and is named Fred—the group is invited into the sprawling mansion of the wealthy and eccentric tea magnate, Quincy Endicott. Beatrice reveals to Wirt that she was once human that she and her family were cursed after she threw a rock at a bluebird. Meanwhile, Greg helps Endicott face his fears and unite with his true love, whom he believes to be a ghost. Afterwards, Fred stays behind with Endicott while the two brothers and Beatrice ride the steamboat ferry (which is entirely populated by well-dressed society frogs) on the way to Adelaide’s Pasture. They camp for the night, but Beatrice sneaks off to speak with Adelaide alone. It turns out that Beatrice was in cahoots with Adelaide to bring her a human child in exchange for a magical pair of scissors needed to turn the cursed family back into humans. Beatrice has changed her mind and offers herself instead, but Adelaide captures the boys as they burst in. Beatrice is able to dispatch Adelaide and free the brothers, who both run off into the woods without her.
Wirt and Greg (and his frog) then manage to save Lorna, a kind girl who has become possessed by a terrifying spirit that has devoured countless victims unfortunate enough to enter her home. Despite Wirt’s newfound courage, he has begun to lose hope and becomes despondent. As both fall asleep under a tree, Gregory accepts the task of getting them home and makes a request to a star to help him be a good leader. In a dream, he is taken to the delightful Cloud City, where he defeats the odious North Wind. In gratitude, the Queen of the Clouds offers Greg a wish. Greg wishes to go home with Wirt, but the Queen explains that the Beast has already claimed Wirt and has started to turn him into an edlewood tree. Greg then wishes to free Wirt by offering himself to The Beast in his brother's place. Wirt awakens to find Greg gone—he chases after him, but falls through ice into a dark, frozen lake.
The final two episodes reveal that Wirt and Greg actually live in the modern world. It is Halloween night, which explains why they are dressed as they are (and why Greg has so much candy in Chapter/Episode 1). Wirt has made a tape for a girl named Sara with his poetry and clarinet playing. After he finds out that another boy is interested in her, Wirt wants to get the tape back to save himself from embarrassment. Wirt and Greg find her with a group of kids at a graveyard, but they all scatter when a police officer drives up and jokingly tells them they are all under arrest. Wirt and Greg attempt to escape over the cemetery’s garden wall, landing on railroad tracks on the other side. Greg finds his frog just as a train comes at them. They both roll down the hill and plunge into a body of water, both unconscious.
Back in The Unknown, Wirt wakes up surrounded by Beatrice’s bluebird family after Beatrice saved him from the frozen lake and goes out to continue his search for Greg. Meanwhile, the Woodsman comes upon The Beast and Gregory, who is starting to be transformed into an edelwood tree. The Woodsman attacks The Beast as Wirt and Beatrice find Greg and attempt to free him. The Beast knocks out the Woodsman and offers to keep Greg’s spirit in the lamp if Wirt agrees to keep it lit as the Woodsman did. Wirt realizes that it is, in fact, the spirit of the Beast that is trapped in the lantern and refuses the deal, giving the lantern back to The Woodsman. Wirt frees Greg and gives Beatrice the magical scissors he took from Adelaide’s house. They say their fond farewells as The Woodsman blows out the lantern to the angry screams of the Beast.
Back in the modern world, Wirt comes to and drags Greg out of the water. Wirt wakes up in the hospital to the sight of Sara while Greg recaps their adventures in The Unknown to the other kids at the cemetery gathering. The episode ends with a montage showing how things turned out with the inhabitants of The Unknown, including the reunion of the Woodsman with his daughter and Beatrice and her family returned to their human forms.
- Elijah Wood as Wirt
- Collin Dean as Gregory
- Christopher Lloyd as The Woodsman
- Melanie Lynskey as Beatrice
- Samuel Ramey as The Beast
- Jack Jones as Gregory's Frog
- Fred Stoller as Fred the Horse
- John Cleese as Quincy Endicott and Adelaide
- Bebe Neuwirth as Margueritte Grey
- Chris Isaak - Enoch
- Janet Klein as Miss Langtree
- Sam Marin as Old Man Langtree
- Thomas Lennon as Jimmy Brown
- Tim Curry as Auntie Whispers
- Shannyn Sossamon as Lorna
- Audrey Wasilewski as The Tavern Keeper
- Emily Brundige as Sara
- Shirley Jones as Beatrice's Mother
- Cole Sanchez as Jason Funderberker
- Mark Bodnar as The North Wind
- Noureen DeWulf as Pumpkin Gal
- Jerron Paxton as The Highwayman
- Deborah Voigt as Queen of the Clouds
- In the Italian version, Wirt and Greg are dubbed by Sio, a famous youtuber and cartoonist (known on YouTube as Scottecs), and Beatrice by the singer Cristina D'Avena.