Disenchantment is by right the natural progression of where animator and creator Matt Groening would be heading towards. We’ve seen suburban America with all the foibles of the traditional nuclear family in The Simpsons. We’ve borne witness to the futuristic shenanigans and scientific satire of Futurama. Where else are we supposed venture off to if not to medieval times? Fittingly enough, this comedic take on ye olde medieval era feels dated and passe. Full disclosure I grew up as a fan of The Simpsons and Futurama and this simply does not live up to those shows.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Disenchantment at first glance is presented as a parody of HBO’s Game of Thrones from off-handed incest jokes to pointy chairs. There’s even a character that is a thinly veiled knockoff Jaime Lannister, if he was an inbred simpleton. A few episodes in you’ll realize that all of the genres of fantasy is on the table as it runs the gamut from mythical creatures to pseudo-scientific quackery to magical madness. It’s set up to be that way but there may be room for more. Some of its absurdities and gags can seem reminiscent of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy which is a good thing. Occasionally, I genuinely did find myself chuckling at something so overtly ridiculous. Disenchantment is best at its zaniest and visually energetic. While the visual elements are given the utmost attention here, I’ve got to say that the writing for the show has yet settled into something solid and unique.
Perhaps it’s the current cultural climate but a lot of the humour in Disenchantment that tries to be relevant to the times can feel toothless and banal. The supposed subversion of the medieval and magical tropes isn’t very shocking or new. A large scary monster that turns out to be quite well-mannered? Seen that. Noble princes and knights that in reality self-absorbed pigs (sometimes literally)? Yup, it’s just Zapp Brannigan in a full armour instead of his sexy pantsless uniform. The show does make a few good jabs at antiquity’s overreliance on the mystic arts and the role that religion plays in that society. Particularly in the third episode when it becomes a spoof of the popular Exorcist film. Other times, however, the show can seem a little on-the-nose in its satire with jokes and comments the audience can see coming a mile away!
The funnier moments of the show come from the offhand remarks or clever pop cultural references hidden in the background which unfortunately leads to a problem with the show that must be addressed. Ultimately, the premise for the show is limited. This is by no way due to the world that Disenchantment inhabits but rather its dedication to making this a sort coming-of-age tale for troubled and repressed teenagers. At the end of the day, it all has to be related to the main character, Bean and her struggle to find herself. A struggle that often feels too shallow and melodramatic for anyone to be invested in. Another issue is that the show isn’t sure at times whether it wants to take a more episodic approach to its storytelling or if it wants to carry an arc. A melding between the two approaches has worked before with shows like Rick and Morty. Not so much here due to the show’s light-hearted and often fickle nature. What about the characters though? Perhaps, they can elevate the experience of this dark age comedy.
Abbi Johnson as the young Princess Tiabeanie aka Bean and lead of the show offers most of the heart here. It can be noted however that at the time her character can feel a bit one-note as after she plans her grand wedding escape, her core motivations seem to evaporate. Leaving her to meander from adventure to adventure. In short, she’s your archetypal headstrong, adventurous princess looking to break the mould with the occasional bar fight and binge drink. Then there’s Nat Faxon as the chipper extended smurf joke, Elfo…the elf. An elf who escapes the faux happy confines of his village to seek adventure in a faraway distant land full of danger and pain. He serves as the naive bumbler of the group. Elfo’s cherrie, upbeat demeanour produces mixed results. At times, his oblivious nature is a source of a few good chuckles. After a while though, his sunny disposition can feel tedious and kinda annoying.
Even more concerning is the fact there is a Leela-Fry-esque relationship bubbling between Elfo and Bean in the background but truth be told it would feel far too predictable if they went down that route. Rehashing borrowed plot threads might not be in the series’ best interest. We’ve seen it, it’s done and let’s move on. I could be wrong and it could turn out to be wholly charming but as of now, it’s a case of Deja Vu. Eric Andre as the demon Luci though is a neat addition to the trio of misfits. He plays as the id to the rogue princess Bean, jovially spurring her own to act on her worst inclination when he’s not dryly commenting on situations. Beyond being the strictly platonic chaotic cynic and friend, it’s hinted that he will be playing a wider part in the narrative. Andre as the hellraiser Luci is surprisingly one of his more restrained roles, those who have seen him in The Eric Andre Show will definitely know what I mean.
On the subject of characters, it’s such a shame that John Dimaggio was given a role that trades the ironic, careless charm of Bender B. Rodriguez for the thoughtless and often humourless callous of King Zøg. The writers have conflated endearing character flaws with general obnoxiousness. That being said, there’s definitely potential for his character to grow in future seasons. John Dimaggio certainly brings a clear and still distinct voice to every role he’s given. He does eventually grow on you but it’s difficult to say that you’ll ever fully embrace him. Futurama voice actor Billy West is back! Lending his voice to a number of quirky characters in the show.
Disenchantment overall is a harmless and mildly humorous show. If you come into it not looking for anything more than a way to kill half an hour or two then there’s definitely some enjoyment to be had here. In its current state though, the show’s underdeveloped premise and characters make it hard to herald Disenchantment as the royal successor to Groening and David X. Cohen’s legacy. Many of us hope the series is just experiencing its growing pains and will soon find its groove much like the first season of Bob’s Burgers before it took off as an animated classic. Until then, Disenchantment remains a disappointingly mediocre magical ride. You can catch the series on Netflix now!
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Disenchantment won't go down in history as one of the worst animated series ever! But its half-baked writing and limited imagination holds back its true potential to be great. Disappointment aside, there's still some fun to be had here should you choose to stay.