Matt Groening has launched his latest animated series on Netflix and we’re heading into a fantasy world with Disenchantment. Lizzie Barnes, the host of A Redhead’s Ramblings, shares her thoughts on the new cartoon. Warning! She talks about what happens in the first few episodes so beware – SPOILERS lies within!
So the latest offering from Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening has landed on Netflix, is it any good? As Elfo, one of the characters says in the first episode, I like it but I wouldn’t say I love it.
It’s a decent fantasy series where the animation is crisp and in the usual Matt Groening style. The character designs are fun, the voice acting is good but the writing is, well, just kind of weird. Not in the funny “ha-ha” weird too. It’s just plain old weird and it’s not funny. There are some good sight gags and a few good one-liners but the overall tone is almost serious in nature. So consider yourself warned if you’re going into this expecting Simpsons or Futurama style chuckles. I think that was the problem for me with Disenchantment, I was expecting a giggle a minute with zippy jokes and hilarious sight gags but mostly it was just a bit flat.
Think for a minute about the openings of both the Simpsons and Futurama. Imagined them or had a quick look on YouTube? Good. Now, what were the things they had in common?
They were funny from the first moment their episodes started. With bright colours and fun visuals, they made you want to watch them and they always ended with a funny joke. Whether it was the couch gag du jour or whatever was playing on the big screen before the Planet Express ship crashed into it. They made you want to watch them in their entirety. They also built the world for you. You knew what sort of towns Springfield and New New York were before the episode even started.
Whereas with the opening of Disenchantment, you don’t really get a sense of the world at all. It starts off with some truly obnoxious farting trumpets. I am not a fan of most of the music in the series. It just screams fantasy elevator music. I mean they obviously tried but it could fit 900 and 1 other fantasy series. And a man shouting ‘Hey!’, overlaid over a series of silhouette-like images, that have a bit of movement to them but aren’t fully animated, which show the characters and areas of the world but they’re disjointed and don’t tell a story. They’re just kind of pretty.
And then you’re dumped into the first episode. No world building. Just hey here’s the thing, now watch it and don’t worry about what’s happening. I’m sorry, but no I need a bit more than that. Having a Narrator saying “Once upon a time in a Kingdom called Dreamland there lived a beautiful Princess named Taibeanie” and then cut to the maid opening the curtains and discovering that maybe the Princess isn’t the standard fantasy trope after all would have been more beneficial.
Because just dumping me into the show with not even a mention of the world I’m inhabiting doesn’t mesh well with my sense of world building. It wouldn’t have taken much to do and it would have helped the show be funny.
And that’s the thing that annoyed me the most about the series. There were moments where I thought “Oh ok, that could have been funny, but it just missed the mark.” The humour that does make it in is kind of childish. It’s all centred on “adult” humour. And I use that term very lightly here. It’s centred around binge drinking, drug use, sex, casual misogyny and gender stereotyping. But it’s done in a sort of 12-year-old naughty schoolkids kind of way. It’s also cheap and it degrades what could have been a great series. There are some amazing characters in Disenchantment that could have helped turned the fantasy genre on its head here and brought us a whole new way of looking at the genre. Instead of this, what we got is what can only be described as if a bunch of new D&D players made up their shiny new characters and then the GM got drunk and misunderstood everything their players were trying to portray with their characters.
Take Princess Tiabeanie (or Bean) – she is a princess who lost her mother at a young age and wants to control her own fate than be married off for a political alliance. She sounds quite standard fantasy trope, right? And she is, but not in a good way. The way the trailers have played her, she was going to escape from her wedding and go off on grand adventures with her two companions, while dodging her father’s guards that are trying to take her home. If that was the premise, I was down for that type of series. Instead what we got was a Princess who whines about her fate but won’t really do anything to change it. Oh, she goes through the motions. Like when she jumped off a cliff in response to the Prince’s request she gives him her hand in marriage in the first episode ‘cliff-hanger’ but it was instantly negated by the next episode. Even by the end of the second episode, she’s back home whining again and that’s all she does. I get that she’s supposed to be a teenager with all the angst that implies but she has the ability to do all the things she wants – but she won’t do it.
It’s the constant cycle of teenage rebellion, her father yells at her, she gets punished (not that any of the punishments hold much weight) and then she goes off and does some stupid teenage shenanigans again and the cycle continues. What I think we’re supposed to do as viewers is to find this all amusing but all it does is get tediously annoying very quickly. It’s frustrating because I liked Bean as a character. She has such potential but it’s wasted on childish humour about her drinking, trying to get laid and her massive daddy issues. She also makes a choice towards the end of the series that is the most stupid and childish decision and I’m still mad just thinking about it. I’ll leave you to discover that one for yourselves but again it negates all the ‘supposed’ character growth she’d supposedly gone through.
All the characters follow this same pattern. You think they’ve learned something and become better people or elves or demons or whatever, and then it’s all negated by the next episode. Now I know what people are thinking – “Wait isn’t that how The Simpsons were?” I mean Homer was constantly screwing up, learning his lesson and then it was back to the same old same old for the next episode. Yes, that’s true! But The Simpsons as a show wasn’t telling a linear story whereas Disenchantment supposedly is. But even The Simpsons evolved from the one-dimensional stereotypes they started off as. Heck even in Futurama the cast learnt and grew as people, robots or aliens.
Ultimately, it is that lack of growth that lets Disenchantment down as a series. It’s trying to tell a story but constantly crippling any true character growth leaves it feeling cheap and meaningless with no true substance to it. Like cotton candy in a rainstorm, it dissolves far too easily and leaves nothing but a sticky mess that had the potential to be something amazing.
Did I hate it? No. Did I love it? No. Did I like it? Yeah, it was an okay way to kill an afternoon and I’ll probably watch the next season of Disenchantment when it hits Netflix. However, I’m not waiting on tenterhooks to find out what’s going to happen. Just as a heads up, this first series does end on a weird bummer of a note with a really clichéd cliff-hanger. So I would say go and check it out but if you’re expecting something on the vein of The Simpsons or Futurama, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.
Disenchantment is available to watch now on Netflix.