Author’s note: There are mentions of basic plot for the first three episodes, but the review does not go into any true spoilers.
Netflix’s Disenchantment, created by Matt Groening, is an animated comedy about Princess Bean, a young woman who would rather drink too much and go on misadventures to avoid her royal duties. This is much to the chagrin of her father, King Zog, who attempts to marry her off by any means necessary. But with her new friends Elfo (an elf from what is essentially a happy candy land) and Luci (a personal demon that is the devil on her shoulder), this leads to complete chaos in the kingdom and its people.
The pilot episode is a strong opening, setting the pieces on their course while never taking its eye off the fun and hilarity of the world it’s presenting. This world can be utterly bizarre, with strange creatures and absurd characters and fantastical magic, and the pilot does not hold back on the nonsense factor. It is the episode with the most jokes per minute, doing its best to win over the audience, and achieving this objective perfectly.
The show is more serialized than The Simpsons, more than even Futurama, which dabbled in serial storytelling and ongoing narrative here and there, and suits the Netflix binge culture. Each episode continues an overall story that’s usually in the background to the episode’s main thrust. At first, it’s that Bean’s father wants to marry her off for peace between two nations; she runs away, and there is a chase led by her fiancé. Her father then feels his daughter is possessed by a demon, which causes her behavior, to the irony of Luci, an actual demon, being viewed as a cat.
The main story weaves in and out as side story and main story depending on the episode, and does so in a fluid and smart way so everything ties together. There is a larger story at play with Luci, but it is only touched on in the very start of the run. It’s possible it may come back in the final few episodes of the season, but it is largely forgotten about for four or five episodes. The most entertaining story is when Bean and King Zog travel with the rest of the characters to a neighboring kingdom that harbors a brittle relationship with their own, putting a lot of emphasis on character and family expectation. It may not have been the funniest of the episodes, but it was one that worked the best, story-wise.
The show is also a lot darker than I had originally anticipated, done in a comical, fun-spirited way (that sounds like a massive contrast, but it works). There are limbs cut off, heads separated from bodies, and Elfo’s blood is occasionally siphoned off for its magical properties. It’s a medieval-era story, and so some swordplay and violence and plague piles is to be expected, but when done in such a pretty and colorful way, the contrast is surprising and leads to even more sight gags.
The presentation is downright gorgeous. The animation is fluid and incredibly detailed, the world full of color and excitement in every frame. The show is full of previously mentioned sight gags and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments and background voices that are just as at home in this show as they were in The Simpsons and Futurama. They are used with cleverness, never in your face or obvious.
The voice cast is otherworldly and easily the top draw for me. Abbi Jacobson as Bean is a great fit, the dismay at her duties and excitement over a night of drinking or doing the wrong thing suiting her voice perfectly. I was concerned that Nat Faxon’s Elfo may prove draining or completely annoying as a tone of voice of a lead character, but he earns his place as one of the gems of the series. His naiveté and aloofness to the new world he finds himself in provides some great character moments, while also giving Faxon some wonderful lines and darker nuances that poke their head out from time to time. Eric André as Luci is another solid choice, a sometimes cool, sometimes manic character who only has everyone’s worst interests in mind. He is mostly used as a quipster of sorts, and André’s voice works with that.
But it is in John DiMaggio as Bean’s father, the king, that comes the best character, and he is a complete joy to listen to. His voice is always at the same pitch and level of exasperation no matter the occasion and is a source of a good number of the show’s best lines. He is always upset, even when he shouldn’t be, and it was always exciting when King Zog was involved in any way.
Of the ten episode season, seven were presented for review. These seven showcase a strong and well-made and well-written show that knows what it’s going for and delivers that in every episode. The laughs may dull in their frequency the deeper into the season compared to the first couple, but it is still a show of quality with a grasp on fun. Disenchantment is a solid show with excellent characterization, a beautiful look, and promises to be a surprise for fans of The Simpsons and Futurama and those styles of show. I can’t wait to see what nightmare its characters face next.
Disenchantment premieres on Netflix globally on August 17th.