FYI: "Disenchantment" Will Have You Falling Under Its Spell
Cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore. There was a time when, if you were a fan of animation over the age of ten, your options as far as TV was concerned were sorely limited. Sure, there were a couple of big names like The Simpsons and Futurama, and South Park and Family Guy were available if your tolerance for offensive jokes was high enough, but there was little variation as far as tone or even premise went.
Nowadays, things are different. Shows initially made for children, like The Amazing World of Gumball and Steven Universe, have gained arguably a bigger fanbase among adults – thanks in part to their nuanced portrayals of queer characters and difficult but relevant issues. At the other end of the scale, Rick and Morty proved that the edgy humor could still find success with modern audiences, provided it made sense from a character and narrative standpoint, and didn’t overly rely on pop-culture references. Plus, there was the show that arguably began the trend of cartoons appealing to those outside their target demographic: Adventure Time.
With Adventure Time coming to an end after eight years and ten seasons, many have been wondering what will fill that gap, and in lots of ways Disenchantment feels like the perfect successor. It also has a fantasy setting and a cast of whimsical characters, and a humorous tone that bounces between childlike and surprisingly adult. Like Adventure Time, Disenchantment also has flashes of terrifying surrealism, accompanied by wild swings in art style that leave the viewer bemused and more than a little uncomfortable. Disenchantment even gives its hero a cynical and anthropomorphic sidekick that can vaguely pass as a normal animal, only this time it’s a cat-like demon named Luci rather than a stretchy yellow dog called Jake.
As for the plot itself, Disenchantment follows Princess Bean – an alcoholic layabout with no purpose and a healthy distrust of destiny. In her quest to avoid marriage, she teams up with Elfo, an Elf who fled his homeland due to his hatred of all things mindlessly happy, and Luci, her own demon, and they find themselves on grand adventures while attempting to avoid doing exactly that, and along the way even start down the road of becoming half decent people.
Right from the first episode, everything from the jokes to the art style are unmistakably Matt Greoning. Almost every character has an equivalent in Springfield, and some even feel like they were lifted straight out of a Simpsons episode, or at least picked up off the cutting room floor. That could just be another manifestation of ‘The Simpsons Effect’, the idea that Matt Groening’s most popular show has already tackled every plot in existence, but it could also be that he is simply just poaching one-liners and character traits from himself. Intentional or not, the first few episodes are robbed of much of their charm, simply because they feel like The Simpsons reskinned as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
With that said, the uncertain first steps of the show are worth persevering through. The British voice acting talent alone is worth tolerating the wobblier moments, whether that’s Matt Berry’s delightfully self-involved monarch Prince Merkimer, Rich Fulcher’s dim but endearing knight Turbish, or Noel Feilding’s surprising cameo as a bafflingly cockney Steve The Executioner. John DiMaggio’s King Zog is the perfect mix of gruff and earnest, even if the show cannot seem to agree on whether he is reasonably smart or Homer Simpson levels of liability. The talent of those actors, and the believability of the characters they create, is enough to make even the most hastily thrown together or arbitrary episodes easy to get through.
Make it to the last three episodes though, and there is nothing inconsequential about it, to the point where it almost feels like an entirely different show. Gone are the monster-of-the-week plots and disposable one-off characters, and the universe no longer seems to reset after every couple of episodes. Suddenly there are real stakes, and the show’s adult tone means it isn’t afraid to really make you feel them. Without spoiling the actual events, the last few episodes throw in a curveball that change the whole scope of the show, as well as arguably the genre. It’s a fabulous way to get viewers begging for a second season, which is no doubt what Netflix was going for, but it also makes the majority of part one feel like a wasted opportunity.
Overall, Disenchantment is a great watch whether you come from the whimsical fantasy school of cartoon fans, or the edgy and nihilistic comedy side. The show is a wonderful mix of both, exploring the banal realities of capitalism, substance abuse, mid-life crises and career uncertainty, while also giving you enough hope to finish a binge-watching session without feeling completely deflated. There is a ton of violence and a fair amount of sexual content, but nothing ever gets graphic enough to feel deliberately shocking, and the whole series could be shown to an older teenager without it feeling too inappropriate.
It starts out as the kind of show to watch while you’re doing something else, occupying much the same space as The Simpsons in terms of how much attention it demands from you, but it ends as the kind of series you can’t wait to keep watching. Hopefully now, after taking a few episodes to find its feet, season two will have finale-levels of hilarity and tragedy right out of the gate.