It’s been 19 years since a new Matt Groening series launched, so a new work is reason to celebrate.
Netflix animation Disenchantment breaks the spell with the first half of a 20 episode order dropping later this month.
Set in the medieval / fairytale world of Dreamland, the series centres around Princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a disillusioned and forthright royal who isn’t enthralled with the idea of marrying the handsome prince from a neighbouring kingdom. She bucks the system and her father, King Zog (John DiMaggio) every step of the way.
Meanwhile in the nearby Smurf-like village of singing elves, Elfo (Nat Faxon) is also indifferent to his lot.
“Singing while you work isn’t happy, its mental illness,” he declares. “I wish I could go somewhere where people are miserable.”
Incensed that his future is nothing more than making candy all day to earn candy he attempts to break out of his elf ‘utopia’, much to the shock of his tiny pals. Like a bust out of Pleasantville or The Truman Show, his bid for freedom breaks all the rules of his universe.
The third central character is a pint-sized wise-cracking demon Luci (Eric Andre) who shadows Bean -literally- and torments her with derision, trouble and plot diversions.
Eventually all three meet up ahead of Princess Bean’s planned wedding, forming a motley crew of rebels facing off against ogres, wizards and handsome princes.
While their skin may not be yellow, the characters bear the trademark-Groening overbite. There are the unexpected asides, comical background signs (“Barns for Nobles”), and pop culture references such as queens resembling anything from Morticia Addams or Cruella de Vil to Lady Gaga. I swear minor characters were mimicking Walter Brennan and Phyllis Dyller. And in 2018 you couldn’t parody the medieval world without referencing Game of Thrones, so watch out for the Iron Throne.
Groening also gets to introduce more 3D artwork (which Homer Simpson only stepped into once), while the accents vary between US and UK (the Brits are usually servants or snobs). The series also works as episodic TV, with the second episode picking up -literally- from a cliffhanger.
Yet while it’s great to have a very independent female lead (shades of Shrek‘s Princess Fiona), Disenchantment feels very plot-driven. At a lengthy 35 minute opening episode, it also dragged on too long. Some of the darker moments, such as a hanging execution for one elf, were more twisted and original than the lighter, punchline scenes.
These are fractured fairy tales for a modern, cynical audience, but whether we care for Bean with the same amount of affection as we do Homer is a question for magic mirrors and rotten tomatoes.
Disenchantment premieres Friday August 17 on Netflix.