And, after great deliberation, I think we should add one more keeper to the eternal annuals of Halloween winners: Over the Garden Wall.
It’s creepy and atmospheric without being too scary for kids (my 7-year-old and 9-year-old girls both watched without an issue). It’s extremely funny and fun for both kids and adults. And it’s absolutely whimsical, original, and special in a way that makes you want to start it over from the beginning when you finish — when my family watched it together for the first time, that’s exactly what we did.
When the final credits rolled, my 7-year-old said, “That was mind-blowing!”
And it totally was!
I hadn’t heard about it until this year, when two different friends told me that they watch it every October — and that they enjoy it as much as their kids do. So I looked it up and found it was a limited series released by Cartoon Network in 2014 — ten 11-minute episodes that roll up into about 110 minutes of total screen time.
We flipped it on (it streams for free on both HBO Max and Hulu) and were immediately thrown into the story. The plot is deceptively simple at first: two brothers, named Wirt and Greg, are lost in the woods, in a place called The Unknown, and they want to get home. But on their journey out of the forest, they run into a series of strange people, places, and events that somehow get them deeper and deeper into trouble as well as farther and farther away from home.
Along the way, they collect some friends — a frog, a talking bird, and the funniest horse that you’ll ever meet — along with a pretty good collection of enemies, too. As the haunting but silly episodes crescendo to the finale, you find out the mystery of how the kids got lost and how they’ll get home is, as my kid put it, mind-blowing. And the madcap adventure they have along the way was just as satisfying.
I’m not capturing the magic of Over the Garden Wall at all, though. I need to tell you that there are catchy and hilarious songs in almost every episode (“Potatoes and Molasses” is a personal favorite), along with unforgettably weird characters along the lines of Spirited Away, Alice in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth. There are also running jokes and punchlines that you’ll be saying to your kids in no time at all (And that’s a rock fact!).
It’s also compulsively re-watchable — like all great classics, it gets better every time you watch it, and there’s always new information to catch, including clues to the mystery, themes, and running gags.
I haven’t even mentioned the star-studded cast yet. Elijah Wood and Collin Dean (Lincoln from Loud House) play the brothers, while Scary Mommy favorite Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) plays Beatrice the blue jay. Rounding out the cast are heavy hitters like Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, Chris Izaak, and Jim Curry.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Patrick McHale, who has also worked on shows like Adventure Time and the 2022 Pinocchio. What a brilliant weirdo that guy must be.
The movie got great reviews, including stellar Rotten Tomato scores, and it won an Emmy for Best Animated Feature the year it came out. But it’s been more of a sleeper cult hit these past 8 years. But it’s time, I think, for it to be a classic for the masses.
And a lot of people agree with me, too.
“Over the Garden Wall is October distilled and served in a warm mug while the wind blows outside,” one fan wrote on Twitter, and yes, he’s right.
“Since October's here, reminder that Over the Garden Wall is a masterpiece if you wanna get in the spirit,” writes Thomas Sanders, and yes, it is a masterpiece.
“Still can't believe the entire month of october was invented for the single purpose of watching Over the Garden Wall,” another believer writes.
So, roast some pumpkin seeds, heat up an apple cider, eat some dirt (this is a movie reference, don’t worry, you’ll understand soon), and pick Over The Garden Wall as your next spooky family movie. It’s more fun than a Pottsfield harvest festival.