Netflix has been producing some fantastic animated shows in recent years, using the flexibility of the medium to tell shocking stories by mixing crazy comedy with heavier songs. With season 5 of BoJack Horseman debuted on September 14 and the second season of Big Mouth will go on sale later in 2018, Netflix clearly sought to add to its stable of successful adult cartoons when he hired creator of The Simpsons and Futurama Matt Groening for a series of 20 episodes. Unfortunately, Disenchantment which stops broadcasting its first season of 10 episodes on August 17, plays its story with too much security and looks old-fashioned and bland compared to other animated Netflix offers.
Set in the medieval kingdom of Dreamland, Disenchantment aims to parody fantasy in the way Futurama parody science fiction. The story follows Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a princess who was a misfit drinker even before she was gifted with a personal demon named Luci (Eric Andre) to act as a literal demon on her shoulder. They are joined by Elf (Nat Faxon), who combines the traits of a Smurf, an Elf Keebler and one of the dwarves of Snow White. Elf has left his oppressively happy homeland in search of the right not to be happy, but scripts almost immediately abandon their initial motivation to experience new things and turn their Bean crush into their dominant trait.
Futurama the parallels are particularly heavy in the first two episodes of the series. Bean is a version of Leela; both have a poor control of impulses that gets in the way of their ingenuity and general ability. Bean is being courted by a prince who is almost identical to Zapp Brannigan in personality and tone. When he escapes with Elfo and Luci, who act as alternates for Fry and Bender, respectively, he receives advice from a former fairy sex worker expressed by Tress MacNeille, who also expressed the recurring elderly prostitute Petunia at Futurama . The show soon becomes a formula where the episodes begin with King Zog (John DiMaggio) trying to find a way to fix his daughter, or leaving Bean to his luck and getting into trouble, replicating the effect of Professor Farnsworth sending the Crew of Planet Express in Futurama episodic missions.
Following with the Futurama formula would be fine if Disenchantment would also replicate its quality. Futurama mocked not only science fiction tropes, but also politics and capitalism, while presenting some genuinely emotional stories. Nothing in the first seven episodes of Disenchantment has that power or bite. Groening and his team simply do not seem to have a good foundation in fancy tropes or history in the same way they are based on major social problems. Apart from some Game of Thrones jokes inspired by the first episode, the humor mostly goes back to Monty Python, with gags on medieval life, its plentiful plagues and its lack of laws on child labor. One of the most fanciful episodes presents a twist on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, but offers nothing other than the tired German stereotypes and jokes of Hannibal Lecter.
The fantasy genre offers some fertile ground for parody, given the frequency with baroque intrigue, complicated magic systems and epic missions. But the show leaves aside the satire in favor of simple humor based on anachronism. Some of the gags work, like a scene in which Bean steals a carriage and is pursued by guards on donkeys carrying sirens and whose [hectómetros] provide the alarm sounds. But most are as flat as the royal family sitting on their thrones eating from TV dinner trays, while the queen complains about having to watch the jester while they eat.
Groening promised Disenchantment would have a serialized plot, but in the seven episodes sent for the initial review, that structure seems to disappear after the second episode. Apparently there is a metaplot involving the people responsible for sending Luci to corrupt Bean, although it is not clear why it is important to influence a princess who is not even online for the throne of her bankrupt kingdom. In addition, King Zog wants to use Elf's magical blood to achieve immortality and rule forever, a goal that would be more terrifying if he were more than a grumpy temper who chronicles his actions like parody of Family Guy ] Randy Newman. Most episodes begin and end with characters in the same place, their past adventures quickly forgotten.
In "The Princess of Darkness," one of the best episodes, Elfo and Bean rescue Luci from a demon hunter, but inadvertently release a bunch of other demons in the process, a mistake that, until now, seems have not had consequences. In "Swamp and Circumstance", they start a war with a neighboring kingdom, which is not mentioned at all in the next episode, "Love & Tender Rampage", which is dedicated to Elf inventing a girlfriend to hide his feelings for Bean The cliché joke is made even worse by the fact that Elf was actually in a relationship with another elf before leaving home. The fact of having presented it could have given the program the opportunity to look back at the world it left behind and ask if it is happy with the election. But writers seem to have no memory, even for events that go back a few episodes.
That's particularly disappointing compared to BoJack Horseman, who has found room for ridiculous independent episodes and a rich plot that has progressively matured through the seasons. The world of BoJack populated equally by humans and anthropomorphic animals, provides almost infinite ammunition for quick visual bites and extended jokes, used to lighten scripts often devoted to depression, substance abuse and failed relationships. A world full of fairies, gnomes and magicians has the potential to be just as entertaining as one with the Navy SEALs that are also seals. Groening insinuates the desire to follow the example of BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and delve into a darker territory, like the sexist system that both limits Bean's choices. Instead, the program sticks to safer clues about adult themes, such as the princess's attempts to dust all the time because the boys fear her father, the king.
Netflix's big mouth is an even better parallel Disenchantment since both are essentially initiation stories, and once again, the new show falls short in comparison. Like Bean, the young protagonists of Big Mouth are persecuted by creatures that encourage them to give in to their impulses. Luci is the source of some great gags. He is always confused with a talkative cat while manipulating Bean and anyone else foolish enough to hear it, but it feels like a pale imitation of Maurice the Hormone Monster Big Mouth and Connie the Hormone Monstress. The duo is much better developed as expressions of puberty, encouraging chasing characters to masturbate, shouting at their parents and jumping in and out of relationships.
Big Mouth occasionally also leans heavily on absurd humor, and some of its gags and characters regularly fall, but writers take risks much larger than Groening ago in Disenchantment . The episode "I Survived the Bat Mitzvah of Jesse" presents a fantastic musical number where all the characters sing about the emotional baggage of a season, including a love first flame and Jesse realizing that his mother has a lesbian adventure with his rabbi. The episode "Am I gay?" It ends with the interrogator character accepting that sexual preference is a spectrum, not a binary state. There are many easy dick jokes in Big Mouth but the more nuanced exploration of adolescence testing is what makes the show so great.
And the lack of something so unknown or daring is what keeps Disenchantment back. Fantasy is often a genre of adventurers whose dangerous activities force them to abandon home security and, often, the safety of childhood. Disenchantment follows those tropes, but without leaving its own form of comical security well worn. Groening could learn from his fellow Netflix animators and find the courage to go further into unproven territory. Otherwise, the series will continue feeling trapped in the past and not nearly magical enough.