Matt Groening, famed creator of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” is back with his new animated Netflix show “Disenchantment.” The first 10 episodes were released Aug. 17 to much anticipation from fans of Groening’s previous work and it is safe to say, he has created something special once again.
The show follows Bean (Abbi Jacobson), the princess of Dreamland, as she stumbles her way through a coming-of-age story full of commentary and plays on classic fantasy and Disney tropes. She maneuvers her way through adventures, near and far, with the help of her trusty companions, Elfo (Nat Faxon), an elf who has left his jolly homeland to seek danger and see the world, and Luci (Eric Andre), a cat-like demon who was sent to Bean by some mysterious figures. Over the course of the first batch of episodes, Bean is struggling to come to terms with herself and her abilities to be a leader, while clashing with her father, King Zog (John DiMaggio) and mourning the loss of her mother. Though there are some familiar voice actor cameos like that of Billy West as Sorcerio and John DiMaggio as King Zog that harken back to “Futurama,” there’s a plethora of differences between the shows.
From the outset it’s obvious this show takes more from the “Futurama” book than it does from “The Simpsons.” In the same way that “Futurama” tried to lampoon and satire many science-fiction tropes, this show attempts to do the same with the fantasy genre. The way jokes are written is focused on deconstructing these stereotypes, whereas “The Simpsons” serves as a more broad, open-ended commentary on family sitcoms and pop culture. “Disenchantment” is centrally focused on this one theme,both to its benefit and detriment.
Having such an interesting setting for an animated sitcom is both refreshing and compelling as a viewer. The highest praise I can give this show is about its tone and art style. Some of the backgrounds and art in this series are surprisingly intricate and beautiful. There is frequent use of three-dimensional models for wide, spinning shots that could easily take the viewer out of the experience but the art style is perfectly suited for this. The slightly cell-shaded style of many of the background art and models helps them feel two-dimensional when they obviously aren’t. There is also something inherently funny about seeing the plain, simple art style of the characters juxtaposed with these intricate, ornate settings.
But this is a Matt Groening show and there’s no doubt the number one question surrounding this project is, “Is it funny?” I’m pleased to report that it is. Though it’s nowhere near the heights of “Futurama” or “The Simpsons” yet, the potential is present for it to get there. The humor ranges from deep cut jokes about genre tropes and medieval hierarchy to more simple, but equally funny jokes like all of the elves being named after what they do. For example, one of the only elves to leave the realm before was Leavo and none have ever returned, not even Returno. While these are obviously silly throw away gags, the delivery and performances of this kind of silly humor really help “Disenchantment” land on its feet.
The writing is pretty consistent in quality, but there’s a bit of a slog in the first couple of episodes, but at 20-odd minutes, it’s not too much of an investment to get to the good stuff. The series is also much more serialized than any of Groening’s previous work. In “Disenchantment,” each episode has elements that make it its own adventure, but there is a very obvious and direct through line across episodes. Episodes end on cliffhangers and character relationships undergo significant changes in this first part alone. It’s nice to see this kind of short-term growth explored in Groening’s style and universe.
My one gripe about the show is that some of the sound design is a bit off. Certain sound effects sound too quiet or don’t quite make the impact that they should. I’m not sure if this is a problem on the recording or mixing end but it’s something minor that can hopefully be improved upon in the second part.
“Disenchantment” is a quick watch, and one that I can’t recommend enough to fans of Groening’s work, as well as fans of both fantasy and comedy in general.