Disenchantment: “only somewhat spellbinding”

Being a lady who spends arguably too much time at home with some sort of cartoon playing, I was ecstatic to hear that Matt Groening, the storytelling deity behind the original Simpsons cartoons and Futurama, was releasing a brand-new animated series on Netflix. The first trailer revealed little aside from a slow pan over a hilltop palace accompanied by lively medieval trumpeting. Okay, so we can gather that Groening is attempting a foray into a cartoon set in the distant past. Having previously dabbled in both the present and a thousand years in the future, this seems a natural progression (or is it regression?).

The release day finally arrived, and I sat in my jammies with a tin of anchovies and sixty-four slices of American cheese – I’m kidding, that was an obscure reference – and pressed play.

The central character, a princess called Bean, is immediately illustrated as one who defies royal expectations. Sneaking out the night before her arranged marriage to gamble down at the local, the princess devotes all of her limited freedom to pissing off her father and drinking heavily. Her series-long companions are also quickly introduced, in the form of a ‘personal’ demon voiced by the irrepressible Eric Andre, and an elf on the run from his own kind. As the series progresses, the two companions overtake Bean in almost all developmental aspects – personality, behaviour and interaction with other secondary characters. These two side-kicks, bringing their own backstories into the mix, progressively become the show-stealers of Disenchantment, managing to overshadow Bean’s slightly muted quest for a maternal figure. As she eventually discovers, her answer is not at the bottom of a beer glass, but in the form of a magic potion. Any more explanation will ruin it for you, but although Bean’s overarching journey is certainly watchable, Luci the demon and Elfo the elf are the real focus pullers.

Despite a promising foundation and a superior quality of animation with characters sporting the typical Groening overbite, something about the series doesn’t quite gel. I would argue that it’s down to the slow pace of the dialogue, but I think that might not be all of it. Something about the show reminds me of more modern episodes of The Simpsons, a fact which I am very uncomfortable with. The jokes, while plentiful, fail to elicit the sort of laugh-out-loud response I’ve come to expect from Groening’s early season creations. Disappointing, but creating a new cartoon to match the success of his other works was always going to be a challenge.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, and on balance the series has aspects that make the show worth placing in your Netflix queue (even if not to watch right away). Groening’s habit of depicting women who don’t quite fit the typical female mould – Turanga Leela, I’m eyeballing you – is portrayed well here. Bean is headstrong, a heavy drinker, and voiced by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson. Any fans of both The Simpsons and Futurama will easily recognise the voices lent to the show, among some new, but no less famous, actors. Bender fans will be happy to hear that John Dimaggio plays various characters, as well as cameos from Tress Macneille and Billy West.

Overall takeaway? Disenchantment is a show worth a watch, but don’t expect anything magical.

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Hattie Griffiths

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January 2022
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