Monday, August 27, 2018

Kotas Reviews Disenchantment

As a relatively recent convert to Netflix, I feel there is no better time to be watching shows on it. My child adores much of their original children's programming, no matter how much I might find it annoying. My spouse and I have bonded over a mutual love of British baking shows. I've managed to catch up on several series I missed over the years, and now the producer of two of my favorite all time shows is back for a round three. Ladies and Gentlemen, elves of all ages, let's take a dive into Disenchantment.

Photo Credit:
Disenchantment is the third animated series from Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and Futurama. At first glance, it appears to be "Futurama, but for Fantasy!" and in a lot of ways it does trend in that direction. The trio above is, from left to right, Princess "Bean" Tiabeanie, the youngest and smallest of the students at Battle Scho...wait, wrong Bean. Bean is the Princess of Dreamland, and an alcoholic layabout who resents her father, King Zog, for not really caring about her ever since her mom died. The little two dimensional imp looking chap above is Luci, a demon sent by...uh...some people as a cursed wedding gift. He's a scamp. The green fella is Elf-o, an outcast from the Elf Village who leaves because he doesn't fit in and wants to experience the world, particularly misery. They get into various hi-jinks.

It would be remarkably easy to match them up and say Bean ~ Leela, Luci ~ Bender, and Elf-o ~ Fry, and honestly that's what I did at first. However, the dynamic between the trio is different enough, along with their motivations for friendship, that I feel it is a unique spin on the Heroic (Well, Protagonistic anyway) Trio. There is a LOT of characterization of Bean, and to a lesser extent Elf-o. Luci is pretty much along for the ride and for some cheap laughs, and to serve as a Diabolious Ex Plot Convenience point, but the unique character design is just fantastic. In fact the whole show is just gorgeous from an art perspective.

The first trio of episodes sets up the premise for the entire series and lays the groundwork for a number of running gags: Bean is to be married off to a prince of another realm for political purposes. Luci shows up, and shenanigans begin to ensue. This is exacerbated by the arrival of Elf-o, on his quest to find "true misery". These episodes are a lot of set up and not so great payoff. The comedy is often pretty hit or miss (except pretty much everything in the Elf Village which is solid gold) but it sets up the scene and puts the pieces in position. The middle four episodes of the season are where it really takes off. The character dynamics start to show themselves, the plots are episodic but with call backs to previous events, and the jokes start landing a lot more than they miss. "Love's Tender Rampage" has some incredibly insightful commentary on standard sitcom tropes. The last three episodes tie into several running plot threads and introduce a whole heaping helping of character development and story, and of course set us up for the next 10 episodes that have already been ordered.

The series has a number of flaws. Since it is set in a fantasy world, there isn't nearly as much low hanging fruit as the modern day or futuristic settings of the Simpsons and Futurama, so many jokes beyond "LOL the middle ages was dirty and gross" require a lot of set up or just don't stick the landing as well as they should. Joke density, outside of some visual gags, isn't as high as with other series. It takes a while for the characters to become somewhat likable so that we sort of care about what happens to them. Then there's the fact that so much characterization and story was crammed into the end of this set of episodes, along with trying to make us have feelings that the series hasn't really earned yet. The Season 3 episode "Luck of the Fryish" from Futurama pulls several heartstrings, but because we've spent enough time getting to know Fry and Company, when it takes a more dramatic turn in this otherwise hilarious gonzo comedy series it actually works. Disenchantment tries to pull that off in Episode 9, rather than Episode 36, and it comes off as rushed. If these elements had been better spread out through the season, or over a full season rather than just 10 episodes, it would have been a better experience. 

On the FACE Rating System, I give Disenchantment 2 Smiley Elf Faces. The art is gorgeous, the characters are interesting, everything involving the Elf Village is pure comedic gold, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. Its weaknesses lie mostly in the beginning and ending of the series, but there is more than enough to be entertaining. If nothing else, I've gotten a few more quotes for the Matt Groening section of my brain. Give it a whirl!

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