Tome of the Unknown
|Tome of the Unknown|
|Created by||Patrick McHale|
|Written by||Patrick McHale|
|Directed by||Patrick McHale|
|Creative director(s)||Phil Rynda|
|Narrated by||Warren Burton|
|Composer(s)||The Petrojvic Blasting Company|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||9 minutes approx.|
|Production company(s)||Cartoon Network Studios|
|Original network||Cartoon Network|
|Original release||September 9, 2013|
Tome of the Unknown, the full title of which is Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody, is a 2013 animated short film created by Patrick McHale. In the film, Wirt (Elijah Wood), his brother Gregory (Collin Dean), and Beatrice, a bluebird, head to the big city in search of an arcane book of all known things, meeting a vegetable man along the way.
Originally imagined as a three-season television show, Cartoon Network asked for it to be a feature film. During production, the miniseries format that eventually became that for Over the Garden Wall was decided on. The film serves as the inspiration and pilot for the aforementioned miniseries, which premiered in 2014. The network, whose animation studio produced the film, also served as distributor. Released in 2013 to multiple film festivals, Tome of the Unknown has received several accolades.
In a large forest simply called the "Unknown," Wirt (Elijah Wood) and his brother Gregory (Collin Dean) walk with Beatrice (Natasha Leggero; later voiced by Melanie Lynskey in the miniseries), a bluebird who has gained the ability to speak. The three are on their way to the big city, in search of a book titled The Tome of the Unknown, which – according to legend – contains every forgotten thing. When their legs tire, Greg suggests they ride a goose, but Wirt doubts they could find one big enough to carry them, thus Greg wanders off and discovers a car that is made from vegetables, which both fascinates and confuses Wirt. The car's owner, John Crops (C. W. Stoneking), is likewise a vegetable humanoid. Crops wallows over his loneliness, wishing like the others to go the metropolitan area. Wirt offers, in exchange for Crops letting them keep the car, to drive Crops to the city, where he can hopefully find a soulmate.
A murder of giant crows attacks the vegetable car during the drive, forcing Wirt to veer off into a cornfield and crash into a scarecrow pole, which scares off the crows. Crops then reveals that they have arrived at the "big city," which turns out to be an old-fashioned small farm community in the middle of the cornfield. While Wirt and Beatrice try to repair the car, Greg wanders off with Crops and they explore the city's gazebo garden party. Crops then bumps into a woman made of cabbage. Crops apologizes and there's a sudden announcement that the party's scheduled entertainment has been cancelled. Greg tells Crops that he could fill in for the party with his guitar and singing abilities, and the woman finds herself flattered after learning that Crops is a musician. Back at the car, Wirt, who can't figure out how to fix the vehicle as all it is to him is a cluster of vegetables, and Beatrice, who recommends that all he had to do was turn the crank on the car's front bumper to start the engine, knock over the scarecrow as they leave with the car working. This summons the giant crows, as well as giant turkeys, who terrorize the city and its vegetable inhabitants. Wirt and Beatrice drive up and pick up Greg, while Crops continues to woo the woman with his music, unaware of the chaos around him, even as a crow attacks one of the members of the band he's performing with and as Wirt tries to get his attention. As Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice attempt to escape without Crops, they are set upon by the giant animals, who start to devour the vegetable car. As Wirt tries to fend them off, Greg suddenly jumps out of the car unnoticed. Suddenly, they hear Greg's screams from the cornfield. The screams continue, until Wirt and Beatrice finally find Greg in the cornfield, unharmed and yelling with joy as he had finally found a goose big enough for them to ride. The city becomes peaceful once more, as Greg's screams had scared the birds off forever, and John Crops goes back to his countryside home with his soulmate, the cabbage woman. Wirt, Gregory, Beatrice, and their new companion Goose, continue to travel onwards, deeper and deeper, into the Unknown.
Tome of the Unknown is a short film directed by Patrick McHale, who also wrote and storyboarded it. Not long after he graduated college, McHale pitched the idea for the film, among other concepts, to Cartoon Network. At the time, the network was considering the creation of a department for feature films, though this never came to fruition. McHale was asked if it was possible to adapt the idea for Tome of the Unknown to feature length. This proved unsuccessful as he felt it needed to be episodic, laying out plans for a full television series consisting of three seasons.
After working as a creative director and a writer for Adventure Time – another Cartoon Network production – on top of a new house and the birth of his child, the network again gave McHale an opportunity to pitch an idea. Having worked in animation for other people as well as on the short animated works of his own, but with nothing for him to call a "professional" piece, McHale did not anticipate the network to have it go further than the short. During production, reformatting the film to a miniseries and not as a traditional television adaptation was proposed by McHale and the network, tongue-in-cheek. Following its release, they both found the format more than suitable. Retitled as Over the Garden Wall, the miniseries was announced in May 2014. Nick Cross, who worked as a background painter with layout designer Chris Tsirgiotis on Tome of the Unknown, was hired as the art director for the series.
Release and reception
Cartoon Network released Tome of the Unknown to several film festivals starting in 2013, including the 20th anniversary of the Austin Film Festival on October 24, 2013, and the International Children's Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in May 2014. At the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the film won an honorable mention as one of the best short animations for children on September 21, 2013. A Bruce Corwin Award for animation was given to the film at the 29th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February 2014, where it was screened in the previous month. Regarding its screening in Boston, Ethan Gilsdorf of The Boston Globe called the film marked by the presence of connections by celebrities, particularly Wood, while noting McHale for his work on Adventure Time.
The film saw digital distribution as part of the DVD release of the miniseries on September 8, 2015. The network previously released the film on their official website in May 2015. Róbert Kovács-Cohner of the Hungarian IGN gave it a high recommendation, calling the story beautiful as it occurs over the backgrounds. For their work on these backgrounds, Cross and Tsirgiotis earned juried Emmy Awards, as part of the 67th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
- LA Shorts Fest
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