Steven Slatter reviews the second batch of 10 episodes of Disenchantment, Matt Groenings latest brain child on Netflix
Princess Tiabeanie and her merry band of misfits are back for round two of Matt Groening’s latest animated creation, Disenchantment. The creator of The Simpsons teamed up with Netflix to develop a new show that’s best described as a medieval version of Groening’s other animated series Futurama. The series follows Tiabeanie, or Bean to most, a princess who wants to be more than a cliché and her friends Elfo and Luci. The three find themselves in all kind of dangerous and sometimes hilarious situations. For a more comprehensive look, see our review of Part One here.
Consisting of 10 episodes, the first part failed to get off to a great start. This was partly due to the show following in the footsteps of Groening’s past successes, so expectations were higher than usual. Equally, a lack of consistent story-telling didn’t help. It seemed the writers were undecided on whether to make a standard sitcom without the canned laughter or delve heavily into character development and origins. The mixture of both became jarring and made it a hard-to-watch, boring series with zero re-watchability.
It’s fair to assume the writers were aware of this issue as Part 2 feels like a refreshing change, with both the comedy and character development, having now found a more attractive balance. The story takes place a short time after the previous finale, with Bean now with her mother, Dagmar, mourning and blaming herself for the death of Elfo and loss of Luci. Part 2 appeared to be taking on a more serialized approach, initially focusing on Bean tasking herself with reuniting her friends and uncovering her mother’s true deceptive intentions. This arc, which only lasted two episodes showed promise, but was over too swiftly. Dagmar was a character who promoted further exploration, yet her story climaxed in an unsatisfying manner.
It was at this stage that Disenchanted became confusing and disjointed, returning to a more non-sequential style of story-telling for a few episodes before reverting back again. This would naturally be fine if the filler episodes offered something more significant.
However, the character development department really shines in this part, mainly of its heroine, Bean, whose complex relationships with both family and friends are capitalised on beautifully. Her journey of self-discovery takes her adventures outside of Dreamland, putting her in situations that impact not just her own, but the lives of her companions, offering more substantial progression. We also get to see a different side to King Zog, an overly grumpy, stereotypically bad leader who is shown to have a softer, tender side after becoming depressed due to the loss of two wives.
Visually, Disenchantment is beautiful, the back and foreground animation seem to meld better, and the 3D elements are far less jarring. As the characters ventured more outside Dreamland, it allowed animators to be more creative, which was very noticeable. This also encouraged more expansive storytelling, i.e. travelling to Hell, where we learn more about Luci’s background as a demon, and Steamland’s introduction that inspires future story growth. More specifically, it gives Bean a world to explore outside of being an alcoholic princess in Dreamland, where the comedy has already been saturated.
The humour, while familiar, somehow felt rejuvenated and wittier, working in conjunction with the story as opposed to a tool used to distract you away from it. The mass pop culture and futuristic (for the time) references were superbly integrated, often ridiculous given the timescale, but executed well. Most notable was the introduction of the coffee shop in which Bean tackles female gender stereotypes in order to become a playwright. It’s silly and would never have happened, but works brilliantly and brings current social issues to a wider audience, which is never a bad thing.
Disenchantment Part Two delivered more substantial and investable character development, better comedy and more visceral visuals. It’s far more enjoyable to watch and has given this series a new lease of life. The climax was very out of the box and leaves audiences with just enough mystery to keep you guessing, but excited for what lays ahead. It’s by no means perfect, but thanks to the short run time (20-30 minutes), negatives are easily outweighed by the positives. If the show can continue to improve in this manner, it could well be around for a long time.