Review: Disenchantment: Part 1 – When you wish upon a streaming service
Disenchantment, a Netflix original animated series, is the newest outing of Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening. That alone should be enough to catch most viewer’s attention (something Netflix is no doubt counting on) but can the iconic mind behind some of TV’s biggest successes repeat the magic of his earlier shows or is this fantasy comedy destined to be a dark age for Groening?
Matt Groening’s style and influence in Disenchantment is obvious from the start; the familiar look of the characters (the elves look like they were taken directly from a Happy Little Elves special), the voice actors, the comedic timing and sense of humor; this is without a doubt a Matt Groening show. For those of you who never enjoyed The Simpsons or Futurama, whomever all 15 of you are, if you’re hoping that Disenchantment is going to be some bold new direction you’re going to be disappointed. Longtime fans however looking for something fresh but still very much Groening will be well served to press play.
Disenchantment admittedly starts slow as it works to build the fantasy world in which the story takes place and introduce us to a plethora of characters right from the start (an entire article could probably be written just about how amazing this voice cast is). The show also suffers from seemingly not being sure if it should embrace its’ streaming, binge friendly nature and run with an ongoing story or opt for self-contained 30-minute adventures. As the first 10 episodes go on it does strike a better balance however, often containing an A plot that is more or less wrapped up in 30 minutes but with side plots and threads continuing throughout the show.
The main story revolves around three characters: Bean, a teenage princess who feels like a mix between Leela and Lisa Simpson and who “doesn’t fit the mold.” Elfo, an elf who has fled his home because he “doesn’t fit the mold,” and Luci, a small, wise cracking, cat like demon that Bean has been cursed with. The series begins with Bean trying desperately to avoid a politically motivated marriage to another kingdom’s prince and Elfo leaving the magical elf village in search of something more.
Bean’s initial story arc doesn’t offer much to get excited about and feels a little too familiar. The most interesting aspect is when she discovers Luci and we, the audience, learn that there is some sinister plot against Bean going on as a running B plot for the series). As the show continues, Bean’s lack of a husband is a central plot point but later episodes do give her more interesting issues to deal with. In some ways Bean does feel a bit “unfished” as a character as well, but more in the sense that they don’t seem to know where they want to go with her yet rather than just being undeveloped. This is best highlighted in the fact that the series only occasionally seems to remember that Bean is supposed to be a teenager. While overall the character is relatable and offers some laughs Bean is also the weakest part of the trio.
Elfo is, at least initially, the more interesting of the two (and more often than not the source of laughs for the show). The elf village is a place where they eat candy all the time and everyone is happy, all the time, except Elfo. By nature of being “normal” in a village where everyone is always happy, Elfo is abnormal and doesn’t belong. He’s also simply too naïve for Bean’s world as well (too human for elf society, too elf for human society). It’s an interesting dynamic and one that is explored further later in the series when the characters return to the elf village. Elfo also serves as the source for an ongoing plot point; the king (Bean’s father) and his obsession with Elfo’s blood. Which he needs to make a magical potion. The similar backstories for Bean and Elfo doesn’t offer much variety or new ground but it does give a good reason to believe they would become friends; even if it does feel a bit reminiscent of the relationship between Bender and Fry.
Luci on the other hand shows real promise. While at times he feels like just a small, cat like version of Bender (I’m sure many of you are wondering what’s wrong with that), the truth is that we never learn all that much about him. All we know is that Luci is a demon (one of several we see in the series) and that he has been linked to Bean via a curse from parties who’s motivations are not revealed in Part 1. The character is constantly walking a line between appearing to be an actual friend to the other characters and being a destructive, manipulative influence on Bean. We never really fully understand his motives or intent. I’m not quite sure where they are going to go with Luci and that is a big part of what makes him interesting and full of potential as a character.
This review has been a bit harsher on Disenchantment than it deserves though. The show has its’ faults and you may find yourself slogging through the first episode a bit in particular but when the series finds its’ footing, it really works. The laughs are far from non-stop but when Disenchantment strikes the right chord it is absolutely hilarious. Thankfully the time between those moments is regularly filled with solid character/world building and some plot developments that manage to even be a bit of a surprise in the end. One could even argue that Disenchantment’s first 10 episodes are better than the first 10 episodes of either The Simpsons or Futurama, though this is likely due to the fact the show is not being made week to week.
In the end Disenchantment’s initial “season” isn’t as edgy or groundbreaking as other animated shows that have premiered in recent years (such as Rick and Morty). In some ways it even feels a bit like a throwback but that is also part of its’ charm. At times the show’s pace suffers and characters are clearly still being fleshed out but unlike many other Netflix originals Disenchantment leaves you wanting more (rather than thinking the show should have ended three episodes sooner).
In short, Disenchantment is far from perfect but shows a ton of potential and if you are a fan of The Simpsons or Futurama you should definitely give a chance.
Final Rating: 7.5/10
GoG Break Down:
How it was viewed: Binge watching, of course
Running time: Each episode averages about 25 minutes.
Recommend viewing: It’s Netflix so really only one way to do it.
Why you should see it: If you’ve enjoyed Matt Groening’s other works you’ll find something to love here as well.
Why you shouldn’t see it: You’re expecting this to be the next Futurama or The Simpsons by episode 10.