Disenchantment Season 1 Review
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Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, dips his hand into the Netflix pot to make his third show, Disenchantment. The Simpsons is one of the longest running animated TV show in history with the 30th season airing later this year, but for some time now the viewership has been dwindling. Perhaps this is due to its mundane unoriginality, with pretty much all it can do already done, and as popular as Futurama was, it’s been off the air for five years. Enter Disenchantment, a medieval fantasy series set in the fictional realm of Dreamland; think Game of Thrones meets Futurama. One would assume this to be an immediate recipe for success, but unfortunately this isn’t the case.
The show centres around rebellious, alcoholic Princess, Tiabeanie “Bean” (Abby Jacobson), elf companion Elfo (Nat Faxon, fans with young children who watch Blaze and the Monster Machines will be unable not to hear Pickle), and her personal Demon, Luci (Eric Andre). As much as you could try not to watch this as a medieval version of Futurama, there are too many similarities to think otherwise, not to mention several voice actors have been in both shows, so your mind is likely to wander there anyway.
The episodic adventures offer nothing unique, the voice work is excellent but the humour and story are sub-par. Rarely do you get that elated belly laugh, throughout settling for, at best, chuckles. The landscape is very standard and the character design fine, the human design is average and, on occasion, fantasy creatures are introduced to keep things fresh and expand the world. The dialog for the main three characters is very sarcastic and unoriginal, it lacks intelligence and charm. The story arcs and character personalities are heavily reminiscent of Groening’s past work. Luci is the catalyst for all things bad, egging on most situations, like Bender, Elfo’s crush on Bean is familiar of Fry and Leela’s relationship, and the list could go on.
The dynamic between Bean, Elfo and Luci is excellent, because it’s safe; rarely do these characters do something out of the box and shocking, they follow their stereotypes and frankly, it’s boring. Bean is far from unique, she suffers the same fate as many other princesses, not wanting to get married, longing for her own independence, she simply doesn’t stand out enough to be a strong lead. Elfo offers the most comedic relief, acting as the bumbling fool who falls for the princess and lets nothing get to him…even torture. And as for Luci, its Bean’s personal demon whose presence is never definitively explained, essentially her evil conscience, clichéd yet satisfying…well outside of the dull character design (it’s basically a shadow).
It takes several episodes to look past the formulaic premise and connect with all the main and supporting characters. To start; it suffered from introducing too-much-too-soon, including little to no depth or distinction. Even once the series gets moving; it’s difficult to actually care about what happens to anyone. Towards the end of the 10 episode run, the story clearly shifts in an attempt to cause some kind of emotional spark that simply falls flat. It’s not all bad, more disappointing.
The series constantly comes across as confused, as the balance between story and humour is clouded in uncertainty: who is this aimed at? Several episodes suggest a more adult audience but chances to darken the humour are missed. The storylines are all over the place; when Bean and crew venture out of Dreamland, more originality and imagination come to light, only for the next episode to take place in the castle and be mundane and lifeless.
The animation is weird, it’s clear this is where the Netflix budget went. To depict the overall surroundings, wide, sweeping 3D animated shots are used- beautiful, yes, but then immediately changing to 2D can be quite disorienting, and in some instances, irritating. The standard 2D scenes are also perplexing; the background images are heavily detailed and appear to be a different style of animation than the simplistic characters interacting with it. Again, not bad, just odd and slightly jarring.
Disenchantment is clearly a show that is still finding its feet, audience and rhythm. Although this first batch of ten episodes may not be as enjoyable as expected, there is clearly potential and small amounts of enjoyment to be had. The final episodes portrayed a path in which it promises to continue and there should be no reason for lack of success. The 20-30 minute episode run-time also makes for quick viewing so time investment is definitely not a problem. Simply put, it needs to differentiate humour, characters and dramatic storytelling. This mixed with the already incredible voice talents, will no doubt make the improvements that could ensure this show is a triumph.